Those of you who live in Sweden may have heard of a body called SSM (StralSakerhetsMyndigheten), this is a state body in Sweden which has the task of protecting people and the environment from the adverse effects of radiation both today and in the future. In common with the now defunct NRPB their task includes X-rays, “Nuclear” radiation (α, β, γ and neutrons), radiowaves (cell phones etc) and UV light.
One of the great problems we as a society is that for the good radiological protection of future generations living far in the future we need to make predictions based on experiments which only last a short time.
One important issue is the formation of organic complexing agents in low and intermediate level radioactive waste. If a substance forms which is able to bind to metals and form water soluble complexes which do not bind to mineral surfaces then the rate at which radioactivity leaks out of a waste store could be increased.
One such compound which has been considered by many people is isosaccharinic acid (ISA) which is formed from cellulose when it is exposed to calcium hydroxide. The cellulose can come in the form of wood, paper or cloth while many cements contain calcium hydroxide.
The classic way to make ISA is to treat lactose with calcium hydroxide, I have done this several times and the mixture soon turns brown and after boiling it down you are rewarded with a dark brown mixture which smells strongly of cooking. By careful filtration of the dark brown mixture a brown solution can be obtained which is then evaporated to a dark solid. This is then extracted with water and recrystalized to give a white solid, due to the insolubility of the calcium salt of the alpha isomer of ISA this is possible. The calcium salt of the beta isomer is water soluble and stays in the mother liquor with a lot of other compounds.
As a result it is relatively easy to obtain alpha ISA, the beta ISA is harder to obtain, so as a result almost all work done on ISA has been done with the alpha isomer. As the properties of the two isomers are not exactly the same it may not be safe to assume that alpha ISA can be used to model a mixture of alpha and beta ISA. Within this project we will explore beta ISA and determine if it poses a special threat in nuclear waste stores.
Now you might wounder why I mention SSM, the reason I mention them is that they are funding this research. One of the ways that SSM protect society is to fund research which allows them to make better predictions about the future. Now my SSM work is about to start, the plan is that I will try to publish papers as well as writing a report for SSM. I also want to bring you some updates about the work here on my blog.