Method for increasing the concentration of tritiated water

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A  leading  European  fusion  laboratory  has  developed  a  method  for  increasing  the  concentration  of  tritiated  waste  water  whilst  reducing  the  volume.  The  process  involves electrolysing the tritiated waste water and then humidifying the evolved gas to reintroduce the tritium into the waste water. This increases the concentration of the  solution  but  reduces  the  volume.  This  could  be  applied  in  areas  such  as  life  sciences where tritiated water is used as a tracer.

Description of the Technology

Tritium is usually present at a low level in the water and this typically renders the recovery of tritium uneconomical. However, tritium may not be disposed of directly into  the  environment  and  therefore  disposal  of  such  water  wastes  is  typically  expensive. As the cost of disposal of radioactive waste is usually dependent on the volume  of  the  waste,  it  is  beneficial  to  concentrate  radioactive  waste  as  far  as  possible.
A  method  for  reducing  the  volume  and  increasing  the  concentration  of  tritiated  water  has  been  developed.  This  involves  introducing  the  tritiated  water  into  an  electrolysis  cell.  Electrolyzing  it  forms  gaseous  hydrogen  and  oxygen.  The  evolved  hydrogen  is  then  passed  through  a  humidifier  into  a  liquid  phase  catalytic  isotope  exchange separation column. The hydrogen rises up the column in a countercurrent flow  with  pure  water  that  is  being  introduced  at  the  top.  This  then  flows  back  into  the electrolysis cell in more concentrated form and can then be removed.
The apparatus was operated for 296 days. 35600kg of tritiated light water were fed into the electrolysis cell and this contained a total tritium inventory of 105400GBq. The tritium concentration in the tritiated feed water averaged about 3GBq/kg. A prei determined  level  of  300GBq/kg  was  chosen  for  the  concentration  of  the  tritiumi contaminated  water  (as  an  end  product).  This  meant  that  the  amount  of  tritiated water  was  reduced  from  35600kg  to  350kg.  In  addition  over  3500kg  of  tritium-­‐depleted water with a concentration below 100kBq/kg was obtained from the tritium-­‐depleted hydrogen when it has been recombined with oxygen. The limit of 300GBq/kg  was  chosen  as  the  desired  combination  as  this  is  below  the  limit  of  330GBq/kg that is allowed for the international transportation of tritiated water.

Innovation and advantages of the offer

It is a less complicated method than alternatives on the market.
There is flexibility on the final concentrations of the tritiated water.
Doesn’t require complicated monitoring systems and multiple feed points.
Easily scalable

Non-fusion applications

Tritium  contaminated  water  is  produced  by  nuclear  reprocessing  plants,  the  pharmaceutical  industry,  life‐sciences  research,  and  heavy  water  nuclear  power  reactors. This could offer a simplified, lower cost alternative to many labs and waste disposal companies working within these sectors.

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