February 25, 2024

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Innovative Radioactive Waste Treatment Tech in Australia

Image Credits: ANSTO, Synroc waste treatment plant information page

International interest is building Australia’s new multi-million-dollar radioactive waste processing facility at the Sydney campus of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). ANSTO announced that the construction of our state-of-the-art Synroc radioactive treatment building is complete, with processing equipment now being installed, ahead of it being commissioned prior to operations in 2025.

The game-changing Synroc facility will treat intermediate-level liquid radioactive waste from the production of nuclear medicine. The Synroc waste treatment facility immobilises the waste and produces a highly durable solid waste form, that is ready for final disposal.

ANSTO’s Synroc Technologies Technical Director stated that in addition to the benefits of nuclear medicine production comes a responsibility to safely manage the by-product radioactive waste. This is what waste treatment technology has been designed to achieve.

Australia does not have nuclear power but does have a significant nuclear medicine program, with ANSTO producing 12,000 doses every week for domestic patients, as well as being a major medicine exporter.

In addition to deployment at ANSTO, strong interest in the Synroc technology has already been expressed from countries overseas with far larger nuclear power programs. The technology is targeted toward intermediate and high-level radioactive waste.

With the Synroc building completed, it is now being fitted out with Synroc process technologies that have been designed for remote operations inside a shielded hot-cell environment with a high degree of automation.

A crucial element of the Synroc process is Hot Isostatic Press, which applies pressure and heat to specifically designed canisters to effectively consolidate and reduce the waste volume. Once this and other technologies are installed, the next phase is process integration and pre-commissioning with cold commissioning to follow.

It was noted that Synroc is an innovative, safe and effective radioactive waste treatment technology that can be built into nuclear supply chains anywhere in the world.

Comparatively, Australia has smaller amounts of lower classed radioactive waste compared to countries overseas with much larger nuclear programs, which makes this Australian breakthrough even more remarkable – the Synroc Technologies Technical Director that ANSTO is acting locally but thinking on a global scale.

Roughly 32 countries across the globe have nuclear power programs, and there are an additional 220 nuclear research reactors. Many of these are working on delivering storage and disposal facilities for intermediate and high-level radioactive waste.

Australia’s Synroc approach and technology offers waste producers and owners a safe and efficient means of treating their waste into a disposal-ready product.

The new ANSTO Synroc facility is expected to be operational in 2025. A full-scale integrated and remotely operated Synroc demonstration plant replicating the full process technology has been operating at ANSTO for many years. Using inactive surrogate chemistry this is a test platform to ensure the process in the final waste treatment facility is highly reliable as well as easy to operate and maintain.

The ANSTO Synroc waste treatment plant, located at Lucas Heights in Sydney, Australia, is currently in the fit-out and pre-commissioning phase. This fully automated process plant will treat the liquid by-product of Molybdenum-99 (Mo-99)  nuclear medicine production. It supports the lifecycle management of radioactive materials and can be built into nuclear supply chains anywhere in the world.

The country has already deployed several sustainable initiatives in an effort to be more environmentally conscious and be prepared to manage a range of critical events. Recently, it was announced that NSW businesses trialing innovative, field-ready bushfire technologies could apply for the second round of the NSW Government’s Bushfire Technology Pilots Programme. Earlier this year, OpenGov Asia reported on the NSW Government’s Bushfire Response R&D Mission which aims to promote new and emerging industries and technology to better prepare the state for future bushfires.

Earlier this month, Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO launched an AU$90 million mission designed to help Australia’s regions and hard-to-abate industries transform and accelerate towards a low-emissions economy. CSIRO’s Towards Net Zero Mission is a large-scale scientific and collaborative research initiative bringing together research, industry, government, and communities to help Australia’s hardest-to-abate sectors – including steel and agriculture – halve their emissions by 2035.

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