To retrieve the radioactive loot, scientists just need a magnet
Adapted with permission from L. Ling and W. Zhang/Journal of the American Chemical Society 2015
Using wee balls of iron, scientists can catch radioactive fuel — hook, line and sinker.
In liquid, iron nanoparticles quickly lure and encase uranium, which researchers can then reel in with a simple magnet. The method, reported online February 17 in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, could be used to sop up radioactive spills or to fish for fuel for nuclear power plants.
The tiny particles have a core of pure iron and a shell of iron hydroxide. Negative charges in the shell attract positive charges in a water-soluble form of uranium, in this case uranyl nitrate. Once baited by a nanoparticle’s outer shell, the uranium gets sucked into the middle of the sphere. There, the iron shackles uranium with extra electrons, locking it into the globe’s nanostructure. The whole process occurs within minutes.