Since 50 years ago, the science community has been working towards progress in nuclear fusion. Fission is, nevertheless, the only nuclear technology used nowadays, and it can be improved by using better fuels.
Uranium nitride can provide an alternative to the uranium and plutonium oxides now used. Researchers from the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico have recently discovered some of its reactive properties.
Uranium nitride is better than the platinum and uranium oxides because they’re more stable and denser. They also conduct heat better than mixed uranium-plutonium oxide fuels, which could allow the nuclear reactors to run cooler and generate more energy.
Jaqueline Kiplinger of LANL and her colleagues have synthesized a molecule complex that is the first known to contain just a single, isolated uranium-nitride bond. They are going to experiment on it to better understand how it reacts chemically.
The uranium nitride was created by firing photons at a complex that contained uranium azide (one uranium atom joined to a chain of three nitrogen atoms). The photons caused the release of two nitrogen atoms by exciting the electrons in the complex and left a triple-bonded uranium nitride molecule behind.
Chances are uranium nitride reacts with methane, because it has proved itself reactive with carbon-hydrogen bonds. “Clearly uranium nitrides are reactive, so this raises the question, what else do they react with?” says Kiplinger. “If it could react with a carbon-hydrogen bond in an added substrate, for example methane, then that would be a really exciting reaction,” she says. Such a reaction offers a way to break inert bonds that typically require energy-intensive processes during the manufacture of common chemicals.
Finding denser fuels for reacting in nuclear power plants would generate more energy and spare some millions of tons of carbon dioxide yearly, only by consuming them in a few power plants. As energy needs get higher by the day, we will someday need faster development of newer and cleaner sources of energy to sustain our lifestyles.