Accelerated chemical aging of crystalline nuclear waste forms
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Nuclear waste disposal is a significant technological issue, and the solution of this problem (or lack thereof) will ultimately determine whether nuclear energy is deemed environmentally friendly, despite significantly lower carbon emissions than fossil fuel energy sources. A critical component of any waste disposal strategy is the selection of the waste form that is tasked with preventing radionuclides from entering the environment. The design of robust nuclear waste forms requires consideration of several criteria, including: radiation tolerance, geological interaction and chemical durability; all of these criteria ensure that the radionuclides do not escape from the waste form. Over the past 30 years, there have been numerous and thorough studies of these criteria on candidate waste forms, including radiation damage and leaching. However, most of these efforts have focused on the performance of the candidate waste form at t = 0, with far less attention paid to the phase stability, and subsequent durability, of candidate waste forms during the course of daughter product formation; that is, the chemical aging of the material. Systematic understanding of phase evolution as a function of chemistry is important for predictions of waste form performance as well as informing waste form design. In this paper, we highlight the research challenges associated with understanding waste form stability when attempting to systematically study the effects of dynamic composition variation due to in situ radionuclide daughter production formation.
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