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Recovery of cesium from High Level Liquid Radioactive Waste for societal application:
An important milestone

Waste Management Division, Nuclear Recycle Group

Waste Management Division has achieved a milestone in production of radioactive cesium pencils to be used towards societal benefits, for health care sector in blood irradiation process. India has adopted a closed fuel cycle for energy security as envisaged by our founder Dr Homi J. Bhabha, where reprocessing of spent reactor fuel and generation of radioactive waste is inevitable.

The 90% of radioactivity content of waste is on account of Cesium and Strontium radio-isotopes generated during fission process in the nuclear reactor. This radioactive waste is rich in cesium radionuclide, which thereby makes it a potent source of recovery. Challenge lies in the recovery of cesium from the radioactive waste streams, which has presence of other radioactive fission products, long lived minor actinides and inactive constituents added during reprocessing.

A chemical, based on calyx crown ether which is highly selective for recovery of Cesium from waste, has been indigenously developed at Nuclear Recycle Group. The plant scale facility at Waste Immobilization Plant, Trombay for recovery of cesium from High Level Liquid radioactive Waste (HLLW) has been accomplished using solvent extraction process after extensively testing the efficacy of process on laboratory scale. More than 1,20,000 Ci of radioactive Cs-137 has been recovered within a period of one year. This recovered cesium was successfully conditioned into a non dispersive and chemically inert form in specially formulated borosilicate glass matrix. The vitrified cesium glass is poured in Stainless steel pencils. These pencils are subjected to various stringent quality assurance checks, at par with international standards. The mechanism involved in the pencil welding system, leak detection test, surface decontamination system has been in-house developed at WMD. At WIP Trombay, 102 numbers of cesium pencils have been produced till date.

Overall cesium pencil making process

Overall cesium pencil making process

These pencils are handed over to BRIT in a lead shielded cask, from where these are subsequently transferred to blood irradiators for shipment to various hospitals. Ten such pencils, containing radioactive cesium, are used in each blood irradiator. This would replace use of Cobalt-60 in these irradiators, which is presently being used as the source for the blood irradiation to save on replacement and isotope production at nuclear reactor. The irradiation of blood is very much essential to prevent Transfusion Associated – Graft Vs Host Disease (TA-GVHD) particularly for immune-deficient patients. Various qualities of Cesium, such as longer half life, lower shielding requirement and amenability to be used in non dispersive glass form makes it a more suitable irradiation source.

India is the fore-runner in this technology for selectively partitioning of Cesium from HLLW, immobilizing in vitreous matrix and thereby deploying in blood irradiator.

This milestone of production of 100 numbers of cesium glass pencils and handing over the tenth cask, was marked on March 17, 2017 where Dr. Sekhar Basu, Chairman, AEC and Secretary, DAE, Government of India; Shri K. N. Vyas, Director, BARC; Shri Kailash Agarwal, Associate Director, NRG; Shri Y. K. Taly, Chairman BARC Safety Council; Shri G. Ganesh, Chief Executive, BRIT; Dr. Pradeep Kumar AD, HS&EG and Dr. C. P. Kaushik, Chief Superintendent, Waste Management Division along with other senior scientists of BARC had graced the occasion at WIP Trombay

Handing over of 100 cesium glass pencils

Handing over the 10th cask of cesium pencil to CE, BRIT by Director, BARC
(From left: Dr. C. P. Kaushik, Chief Superintendent, WMD; Shri Y. K. Taly, Chairman, BARC Safety Council; Dr. Sekhar Basu, Chairman AEC and Secretary DAE; Shri K. N. Vyas, Director, BARC; Shri Kailash Agarwal, Associate Director, NRG; Shri G. Ganesh, Chief Executive, BRIT; Dr. Pradeep Kumar, Associate Director, HS&EG)

It makes us proud to announce that India is the first country to adopt the engineering scale production of cesium glass pencils, by using recovered radioactive cesium from high level waste and thereby redefining the waste as a material of resource.