By Peter Roberts
The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) has announced that the construction of its Synroc radioactive treatment building is complete, with processing equipment now being installed, ahead of it being commissioned prior to operations in 2025.
ANSTO has been attempting to commercialise its Synroc method of encapsulating radioactive wastes into a durable solid wasteform for decades, with the latest development coming as ‘international interest is building’ in the technology according to ANSTO.
However it would be a brave man indeed who bet his money on commercial success.
Synroc was invented in 1978 by a team led by Professor Ted Ringwood at the Australian National University and further developed by ANSTO at the Lucas Heights nuclear facility in Sydney.
It has been said to be on the brink of commercialisation ever since.
The new Synroc facility will treat intermediate-level liquid radioactive waste from the production of nuclear medicines using a process called Hot Isostatic Pressing.
Waste is sealed in specially designed canisters with a press applying heat and pressure to consolidate and reduce the waste volume.
ANSTO’s Synroc Technologies Technical Director Gerry Triani said: “Along with the benefits of a nuclear medicine production comes a responsibility to safely manage the by-product radioactive waste.
“That’s what our waste treatment technology has been designed to achieve.”
This is a problem for ANSTO which has accumulated large volumes of waste from its nuclear medicine programme, with a long-promised permanent waste depository failing to materialise.
ANSTO said strong interest in the Synroc technology had been expressed from countries overseas with far larger nuclear power programmes.
However we have heard exactly the same thing from ANSTO every few years for decades now.
The problem is most waste of this type is normally encased in glass, and while Synroc is a viable and possibly even a far better technology, other countries simply do not see enough benefit to switch to Synroc.
Synroc was once held up as one of those great Aussie inventions that was going to takeover the world – a bit like the Interscan microwave aircraft landing system which was similarly promoted by CSIRO.
It is part of the narrative that Australians are incredibly inventive, but not all that good at commercialisation.
Well people are inventive, and Australians are inventive, and we can sometimes stumble in commercialisation.
I would love to see Synroc taken up by the world’s nuclear players.
The truth is that great technologies abound, but to be a success they need a customer.
At least now, with the new ANSTO Synroc facility expected to be operational in 2025, the process will likely be used, at least in Australia.
HOW SYNROC’S SCIENCE-PUSH FAILED AS THE PANACEA FOR NUCLEAR WASTE