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Princeton physicists propose new plasma-based method to treat radioactive waste

December 13, 2015

Physicists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) are proposing a new way to process nuclear waste that would reduce both the cost of disposal and the byproducts from the process. Known as plasma mass filtering, the new mass separation techniques use a plasma-based centrifuge that would supplement chemical techniques.

“The safe disposal of nuclear waste is a colossal problem,” said Renaud Gueroult, staff physicist at PPPL and lead author of the paper that appeared in the Journal of Hazardous Materials in October. “One solution might be to supplement existing chemical separation techniques with plasma separation techniques, which could be economically attractive, ideally leading to a reevaluation of how nuclear waste is processed.”

This work was supported by PPPL’s Laboratory Directed Research and Development Program.

The immediate motivation for safe disposal is the radioactive waste stored currently at the Hanford Site, a facility in Washington state that produced plutonium for nuclear weapons during the Cold War. The volume of this waste originally totaled 54 million gallons and was stored in 177 underground tanks.