In DepthNUCLEAR POWER

The trouble with tritium

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Science  12 Dec 2014:
Vol. 346, Issue 6215, pp. 1278
DOI: 10.1126/science.346.6215.1278

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Summary

Those decommissioning the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station's three meltdown-wrecked reactors have more to worry about than melted fuel. Every day 300 tons of ground water leak into the basements of the buildings, get contaminated, and must be pumped out and stored. There are now nearly 1000 tanks on site holding more than 560,000 tons of contaminated water. Plant owner Tokyo Electric Power Co. finally has a process that removes all radionuclides except for tritium, which is bonded into water molecules. Existing tritium-removal techniques are deemed too costly and impractical. So the Japanese government is funding the development of promising alternatives. A U.S.-based company is working on a catalytic method it claims can squeeze all the tritium into just 5 cubic meters of water for disposal. It has until March 2016 to prove it can scale up the process to meet the Fukushima challenge.

  • * in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan