New treatment removes radioactive barium from nuclear wastewater “rapidly and effectively”

Published 19 April, 2022

Exposure to ionising radiation can be extremely dangerous for humans and animals. High acute doses lead to radiation burns and radiation sickness that can be lethal. Lower-level and longer-term exposure causes damage to the cells and organs that can lead to cancer.

These radioactive ions are a by-product of the process used to create nuclear energy and can be found in the wastewater produced by nuclear reactors. A research team from China’s Taiyuan University of Science and Technology has developed a new process that offers a rapid and effective path to remove some of the most harmful of these – barium (Ba2+) ions.

The first author of the study, which was published in the KeAi journal Green Chemical Engineering, is Dr. Xudong Zhao. He explains:  “Over the past few decades, scientists have focused on treating radioactive ions using an adsorption process, which causes the dangerous ions to stick to the adsorbent’s surface, which can then be safely scraped off. However, for this process to work safely and efficiently, achieving the right balance between adsorption capacity and adsorption speed is pivotal; something the various adsorbents that are currently used struggle to achieve.”

To solve this problem, Dr. Zhao and his fellow authors have developed a new adsorbent that uses a sulfonic acid (–SO3H) group. He says: “It exhibits excellent capture ability for barium due to its strong, hard acid-base and electrostatic interactions. We achieved an adsorption capacity of 152.0 mg g−1 and a fast equilibrium adsorption time, both of which are superior to most of other reported materials.”

He adds: “Optimal pH was found to be almost neutral and changes in temperature had little impact on the effectiveness of the adsorbent. In addition, the process is irreversible, which means secondary pollution (by the ions leakage) is not an issue.”

According to Dr. Zhao, the team’s work not only provides an efficient adsorbent for capturing Ba2+ irreversibly, it also proposes a strategy for constructing adsorbents with simultaneous high adsorption capacity and fast kinetics. He explains: “These adsorbents could potentially be used in a variety of industries and industrial processes.”


Contact the author: Xudong Zhao,

The sulfonic acid adsorbent process the researchers have developed
The sulfonic acid adsorbent process the researchers have developed

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