Tag Archives: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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Leukemia patients turn to nuclear

German researchers say targeted alpha therapy can provide hope for men with prostate cancer by using a nuclear isotope.

Their findings were published in the October issue of The Journal of Nuclear Medicine, in an article that concluded that using the isotope actinium-225 “is tolerable and presents promising antitumor activity” and that repeated treatments “may lead to continuing tumor control.”

Actinium-225 is also being used with great success in helping patients newly diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia.

“Actinium-225, an isotope of the element actinium, which is usually found in uranium ores, is proving effective in curing – not just treating – myeloid leukemia,” USA Today reported in May.

Oak Ridge National Labs (ORNL) is the only source for Actinium-225, which has been found to save lives in clinical trials.

Actinium is a byproduct of Uranium-233, which the United States produced for ORNL’s Molten Salt Reactor Experiment in the 1960s. Researchers at Oak Ridge are using waste that has sat in steel barrels for decades to obtain the isotope.

The cancer was previously treatable in young patients only. That is a problem since the average age diagnosis is 67 years old. The new therapy using Actinium-225, has successfully treated elderly patients, according to Oak Ridge nuclear medical scientist Saed Mirzadeh, who added that some patients went into remission after only one treatment.

Oak Ridge researchers also say that the isotope could be used to treat prostate cancer and brain tumors. Multiple clinical trials are taking place in Europe for those cancers, but there are currently no such trials in North America.

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There’s Uranium in Seawater. And it’s Renewable.

According to Natural Resources Canada, “renewable energy is energy obtained from natural resources that can be naturally replenished or renewed within a human lifespan.” This typically includes sunlight, wind and rain. Uranium has never made this list, as it is generally believed that uranium resources are finite. However this is not the case.

Researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory exposed this special uranium-adsorbing fiber developed at ORNL to Pseudomonas fluorescens and used the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory to create a 3-D X-ray microtomograph to determine microstructure and the effects of interactions with organisms and seawater. Courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory exposed this special uranium-adsorbing fiber developed at ORNL to pseudomonas fluorescens and used the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory to create a 3D x-ray microtomograph to determine microstructure and the effects of interactions with organisms and seawater. Source: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

While terrestrial uranium (the uranium we currently mine) is indeed limited in quantity, with known resources that will last another 100 years or so, there is uranium in seawater that naturally replenishes itself.

The uranium in seawater is controlled by steady-state chemical reactions between the water and rocks that contain uranium, such that whenever uranium is extracted from seawater, the same amount is leached from the rocks to replace it.

In fact, according to a Forbes Magazine article by James Conca, a scientist in the field of earth and environmental sciences, “it is impossible for humans to extract enough uranium to lower the overall seawater concentrations faster than it is replenished.”

Scientists envision anchoring hundreds of lengths of U-extracting fibers in the sea for a month or so until they fill with uranium. Then a wireless signal would release them to float to the surface where the uranium could be recovered and the fibers reused. It doesn’t matter where in the world the fibers are floating. Source: Andy Sproles at ORNL.
Scientists envision anchoring hundreds of lengths of uranium-extracting fibers in the sea for a month or so until they fill with uranium. Then a wireless signal would release them to float to the surface where the uranium could be recovered and the fibers reused. It doesn’t matter where in the world the fibers are floating. Source: Andy Sproles at ORNL.

Though the uranium concentration in seawater is only about 3 milligrams per cubic meter, the total volume of the ocean is about 1.37 billion cubic kilometers, which means there are about 4.5 billion tons of uranium in seawater at any given time.

There is currently a considerable amount of research being done on extracting uranium from seawater, most notably in Japan, China, and the United States. The latest technologies, which have emerged from Department of Energy’s (DOE) Pacific Northwest (PNNL) and Oak Ridge National Laboratories (ORNL), use polyethylene fibers coated with amidoxime to attract and bind uranium dioxide from seawater. These fiber braids are about 15 centimeters in diameter and can be several meters in length depending on where they are installed.

After a month or so, the fibers are brought to the surface, where they undergo an acid treatment that recovers the uranium and regenerates the fibers so that they can be reused.

“Finding alternatives to uranium ore mining is a necessary step in planning for the future of nuclear energy,” explained Stephen Kung at the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy to Forbes Magazine. But making the process economical is equally important.

The advances by PNNL and ORNL have reduced the cost of extraction by a factor of four in just 5 years, but the cost is still about $200/lb compared to traditional uranium mining which ranges between $10 and $120/lb.

Fortunately, the cost of uranium is a very small percentage of the cost of nuclear power. Therefore even at $200/lb, the cost of nuclear power would not increase dramatically.

Researchers continue to seek more efficient and economic ways to extract uranium from seawater, because the amount of uranium is truly unlimited. It is renewable energy in every sense of the word, and should be considered alongside solar, wind and hydro.

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Terrestrial Energy Says Molten Salt is the Future of SMR Technology

IMSR core sizes
IMSR core sizes.

Terrestrial Energy is on the path to commercializing its Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR), which it says holds the greatest promise as an alternative to conventional energy sources.

“We believe we have a technology that is ideal for the small modular reactor market,” said Simon Irish, chief executive of Terrestrial Energy, based in Toronto. “We believe our technology will provide industry with a small modular reactor that provides power which is simply more convenient and more cost competitive than using coal.”

Global energy demand will grow substantially over the next generation, driven primarily by population growth and industrialization in Asia. Many countries seek secure, cost-competitive energy sources that avoid the climate-changing greenhouse gases generated by coal, natural gas and oil.

IMSR plant
IMSR plant.

“The need for game-changing innovation is far, far stronger this decade than decades before,” said Irish. “We face many problems identifying secure, safe and economically competitive energy supplies over the next two decades. Solving that problem with existing approaches is probably not practical.”

The molten-salt reactor system differs fundamentally from today’s water-cooled commercial reactors. Instead of using solid uranium as fuel, it dissolves the uranium in liquid salt mix. Irish said the technique gives the molten-salt reactor a unique safety profile.

“You can’t lose primary coolant because your fuel and your coolant are one and the same,” Irish explained, “and they are not under pressure as they are in traditional solid-fuel reactors.  The IMSR system is passively safe – meaning safety is assured even in the absence of backup power.”

IMSR section view
IMSR section view.

Although the molten-salt reactor is not yet commercially available, it uses a recognized, proven nuclear technology demonstrated in the late 1950s to the 1970s by the illustrious Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

The trick is to change a working laboratory reactor into a reactor suitable for industry – and that’s where Innovation comes in.

Building on the Oak Ridge demonstrations, Terrestrial Energy has developed a reactor system that appears simple, safe to operate, convenient and highly cost effective for industry.  It could enter service early next decade.

“The first step on our path to commercialization involves the manufacturing and construction of our first commercial reactor at a site in Canada, and obtaining a license to operate it from the CNSC,” explains Irish. “We intend to have it up and running and connected to the grid by early next decade.”