Scientists from University of Manchester, UK, created a new graphene membrane that can find numerous incredible uses in the nuclear power sector. More precisely, it can distinguish between lighter hydrogen atoms, with one proton nuclei, and heavy isotope that has both proton and a neutron in the nuclei- also known as deutrium isotope. In addition, the membrane can filter the radioactive isotope tritium out of nuclear wastewater.
In order to get an idea of the magnitude and importance of this development, here are some details and clarifications.
Deuterium is one of the key components in the so called heavy water. This heavy water is very important in to run nuclear power plant operations, and it is usually required in very large quantities. Current techniques for producing heavy water are quite expensive and very much technology-intensive.
With this new graphene membrane, the separation between the heavy isotope deutrium and the light atoms with a single-proton nuclei, can be done fast and efficiently. This can then simplify and speed up the production of heavy water enormously. According to the scientists behind the development, their findings indicate that the technology could be easily scaled up to industrial level.
The other key function of the new graphene membrane is that it could filter out the highly radioactive isotope tritium from nuclear wastewater. Tritium is another hydrogen isotope with one proton and two neutrons in the nucleus. It is produced during the process of electricity generation at nuclear power plants as a byproduct. If it leaks to the environment, it is very dangerous and harmful to living organisms, including humans. However, when carefully filtered out from nuclear wastewater, it can be used in self-powered watches, lights and other devices.
As the authors point out, this is the first time a membrane is able to separate subatomic particles at room temperature. Of course, there is no surprise that the wonder material graphene has something to do with this.
The authors believe that the technology is simple enough, easily scalable, and highly viable. Therefore they anticipate to see it in practical use very soon.
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