Radiation waste cleanup was in the public eye this year following the huge earthquake and tsunami in Fukushima, Japan. Sandia National Laboratories has a history of helping to solve challenging problems related to radioactive waste cleanup as part of the long-term effort to remediate radioactive waste at both government sites and nuclear power plants.

Sandia chemist Bob Dosch and Texas A&M chemical engineering professor Ray Anthony recognized that a certain class of synthetic zeolites was far more effective in capturing certain radioactive elements, like cesium, than other available technologies. They invented crystalline silico-titanates (CSTs), molecularly engineered ion exchangers which could be sized specifically for cesium or other elements. By removing the highly radioactive elements like cesium using CSTs, the remaining lower-level radioactive waste can be treated in a way which will be less costly and hazardous for workers and the environment.

The blue structure is a stylized CST. The magenta spheres are radiocesium ions in water and are being preferentially taken up by the CSTs over the green sodium ions.

UOP, a Honeywell Company, first licensed CST technology from Sandia in 1994, shortly after the material was invented. CSTs are inorganic ion exchangers used to separate highly radioactive elements such as cesium from radioactive waste solutions. A cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) with Sandia allowed for commercial development of the CST technology by UOP. In 1996, work on CSTs by UOP, Sandia, and Texas A&M led to an R&D 100 award for development of the commercially ready product.

In 2011, UOP renegotiated an exclusive license for the patented CST technology, and continued working with Sandia on an expanding portfolio of materials which selectively scavenge contaminants such as arsenic, radioiodine, actinides, and strontium. Today, the UOP IONSIV products are successfully being used for cleanup of radiation-contaminated water at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan.

Read more about the ECIS-UOP partnership.