Actinide ion extraction using room temperature ionic liquids: opportunities and challenges for nuclear fuel cycle applications
Studies on the extraction of actinide ions from radioactive feeds have great relevance in nuclear fuel cycle activities, mainly in the back end processes focused on reprocessing and waste management. Room temperature ionic liquid (RTIL) based diluents are becoming increasingly popular due to factors such as more efficient extraction vis-à-vis molecular diluents, higher metal loading, higher radiation resistance, etc. The fascinating chemistry of the actinide ions in RTIL based solvent systems due to complex extraction mechanisms makes it a challenging area of research. By the suitable tuning of the cationic and anionic parts of the ionic liquids, their physical properties such as density, dielectric constant and viscosity can be changed which are considered key parameters in metal ion extraction. Aqueous solubility of the RTILs, which can lead to significant loss in the solvent inventory, can be avoided by appending the extractant moieties onto the ionic liquid. While the low vapour pressure and non-flammability of the ionic liquids make them appear as ‘green’ diluents, their aqueous solubility raises concerns of environmental hazards. The present article gives a summary of studies carried out on actinide ion extraction and presents perspectives of its applications in the nuclear fuel cycle. The article discusses various extractants used for actinide ion extraction and at many places, comparison is made vis-à-vis molecular diluents which includes the nature of the extracted species and the mechanism of extraction. Results of studies on rare earth elements are also included in view of their similarities with the trivalent minor actinides.
- This article is part of the themed collection: 2017 Frontier and Perspective articles