New technology could detect radioactive threats in nuclear wastewater

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Nov. 13, 2013 -- In light of the recent nuclear disaster at Fukushima's Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan, scientists are reporting progress toward a new way to detect the radioactive materials known as uranium and plutonium found in wastewater.

Highlighted in the American Chemical Society's (ACS') Journal of Physical Chemistry C., authors Jorge M. Seminario and Narendra Kumar discuss the design of a highly-sensitive nanosensor that can potentially help eliminate potential dangers of nuclear disposals and unforeseen accidents.

Seminario and Kumar note that it is highly likely radioactive uranium and plutonium have leaked into the soil and groundwater near nuclear facilities. This contamination poses a serious threat to the environment and human health. Although detecting these materials even at low levels is important for determining whether a leak is occurring, traditional methods of doing so are not effective.

Recently however, scientists have discovered that radioactive materials in water can clump onto flakes of graphene oxide (GO). Based on theoretical models and calculations, researchers predicted that GO could sense and identify extremely low levels -- single molecules -- of various substances. Seminario's team set out to see how best to adapt this for uranium and plutonium sensing.

Using the latest advances in supercomputing, they modeled several different variations of GO to assess which one would be the most sensitive and selective in detecting uranium and plutonium in nuclear waste water. They concluded that attaching something called a carbonyl functional group to GO would serve as an effective nanosensor for these radioactive materials.

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