Containment it is crucial since radioactive iodine decays very slowly and will linger in the environment for millions of years. It's known for targeting the thyroid gland in people, increasing the risk of cancer. Because it disperses easily through air and water, some countries, like France and the U.K., dispose of it by dumping it into the ocean.
"At the end of the day, it has to end up somewhere," Goel said. "It will end up being in fish, being in aquatic bodies, and then slowly it will enter into the food chain."
Goel, who has spent his career on glass- and ceramics-related projects came up with a method for containing the radioactive gas that doesn't require high-temperatures or vacuum-sealed chambers.
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" "We developed a technique where everything is at room temperature. It's just that you have to mix the chemicals in the proper order in water," Goel said. "That is it."
Wait. It's that simple? Yes, said Goel. The iodine-129 gas is captured in the caustic filter and then mixed with other chemicals in a specific order and turned into ceramic.
Goel and his team won second prize in the 2016 Innovations in Fuel Cycle Research Awards sponsored by U.S. Department of Energy for this technological breakthrough.
While iodine-129 is found mainly in "low activity" radioactive waste, meaning the level of radioactivity is low, the team is also working on the challenges of containing waste described as "high activity," too. That may take a little more time.
The good news is the 90 percent of nuclear waste at the Hanford site is made up of low-activity waste and so the impact of this new approach could be huge.
"This is not a trivial problem as we are working on the largest, most expensive environmental remediation project in the U.S. history," Goel said. "I feel honored to be a part of this effort, and hope that our research brings a great promise to safe and efficient immobilization of spent nuclear fuel in United States and a much increased use of nuclear power in the near future."