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Using Plastic Waste to Build Better Radiation Shielding

Researchers added powdered plastic waste to concrete and improved its radiation shielding capacity.

Researchers have created a more sustainable version of concrete for shielding nuclear radiation using plastic waste and other recycled materials, as per a study published in Progress in Nuclear Energy. 

The study, conducted by researchers from Basaveshwar Engineering College, in India, highlights a new method for recycling the tons of plastic waste accumulated each year, much of which ends up polluting the ocean — 10 million tonnes of plastic waste end up at sea every year, according to the World Economic Forum 

The researchers recycled waste plastic and other byproducts from the iron and steel industry to demonstrate how waste polymers can be ground into powder and turned into lightweight, but dense materials that are required for shielding gamma and neutron radiation.

"We wanted to explore whether waste plastic could be used for neutron radiation shielding," first author Santhosh Malkapur, a civil engineer at Basaveshwar Engineering College, said in a press release via The Academic Times.

"Concrete is known to be a good radiation shield material and has been used conventionally all these years in making shielding walls," he continued.

Fine plastic powder for improved radiation shielding

The researchers incorporated waste plastics into a concrete formula specifically designed to shield nuclear radiation.

They replaced the sand typically used in concrete with a fine powder of waste plastic sourced from a local steel manufacturer. Industry byproducts including iron ore tailings and fly ash were also added to the formula.

In order to test their concrete, the scientists blasted it with neutron and gamma radiation — they found that the plastic-infused concrete reduced radiation transmission by 15.7 to 20.5 percent.

"There are many solutions to recycle and reuse waste and discarded plastics. We have worked with one such application, and we have proved that we can successfully utilize waste plastics for making concrete radiation shields," Malkapur said.

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"Similar attempts can be made elsewhere to use and make sustainable radiation shields using locally available materials," he continued.

Last year, Empa scientists announced that they had developed a similarly eco-friendly concrete that replaced steel bars with carbon fiber-reinforced polymers.

As for the team from Basaveshwar Engineering College, their work isn't finished yet. Next, they said they want to continue to research uses for plastic waste in concrete, including a potential formula devised for better insulation in buildings.

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