Vitrification is currently the most widely used technology for the treatment of high level radioactive wastes (HLW) throughout the world. Most of the nations that have generated HLW are immobilizing in borosilicate glass. One of the primary reasons that glass has become the most widely used immobilization media is the relative simplicity of the vitrification process, e.g. melt a highly variable waste with some glass forming additives such as SiO2 and B2O3 in the form of a premelted frit and pour the molten mixture into a stainless steel canister. Seal the canister before moisture can enter the canister (10’ tall by 2’ in diameter) so the canister does not corrode from the inside out. Glass has also become widely used for HLW is that due to the fact that the short range order (SRO) and medium range order (MRO) found in the structure of glass atomistically bonds the radionuclides and hazardous species in the waste. The SRO and MRO have also been found to govern the melt properties such as viscosity and resistivity of the melt and the crystallization potential and solubility of certain species. The molecular structure of the glass also controls the glass durability, i.e. the contaminant/radionuclide release, by establishing the distribution of ion exchange sites, hydrolysis sites, and the access of water to those sites. The molecular structure is flexible and hence accounts for the flexibility of glass formulations to HLW waste variability. Nuclear waste glasses melt between 1050-1150°C which minimizes the volatility of radioactive components such as 99Tc, 137Cs, and 129I. Nuclear waste glasses have good long term stability including irradiation resistance. Process control models were developed based on the molecular structure of glass, polymerization theory of glass, and quasicrystalline theory of glass crystallization. These models create a glass which is durable, pourable, and processable with 95% accuracy without knowing from batch to batch what the composition of the waste coming out of the storage tanks will be. These models have operated the Savannah River Site Defense Waste Processing Facility (SRS DWPF), which is the world’s largest HLW Joule heated ceramic melter, since 1996. This unique “feed forward” process control, which qualifies the durability, pourability, and processability of the waste plus glass additive mixture before it enters the melter, has enabled ~8000 tons of HLW glass and 4242 canisters to be produced since 1996 with only one melter replacement.
Jantzen, Carol M.
"Using Polymerization, Glass Structure, and Quasicrystalline Theory to Produce High Level Radioactive Borosilicate Glass Remotely: A 20+ Year Legacy,"
Journal of the South Carolina Academy of Science: Vol. 15
, Article 4.
Available at: http://scholarcommons.sc.edu/jscas/vol15/iss1/4