Queensland University of Technology researchers have developed new technology capable of removing radioactive material from contaminated water. The innovation could solve the problem of how to clean up millions of tonnes of water contaminated by dangerous radioactive material and safely store the concentrated waste as well as aiding clean-up efforts following nuclear disasters.

The technology, which was developed in collaboration with the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation and Pennsylvania State University, works by running the contaminated water through fine titanate nanotubes and fibres, which trap the radioactive cesium ions through a structural change. The used absorbents can be safely disposed of, without the risk of leakage.

By adding silver oxide nanocrystals to the outer surface, the nanostructures are able to capture and immobilise radioactive iodine ions used in treatments for thyroid cancer and in probes and markers for medical diagnosis.

Professor Huai-Yong Zhu from Queensland University of Technology Chemistry said.that “One gram of the nanofibres can effectively purify at least one tonne of polluted water, This saves large amounts of dangerous water needing to be stored somewhere and also prevents the risk of contaminated products leaking into the soil.”

He added that “Australia is one of the largest producers of titania that are the raw materials used for fabricating the absorbents of titanate nanofibres and nanotubes. Now with the knowledge to produce the adsorbents, we have the technology to do the cleaning up for the world.”