Nuclear energyScientists have developed an extremely efficient “molecular trap” that can be recycled and reused to capture radioactive iodides in spent nuclear reactor fuel.

The trap is like a tiny, porous super-sponge. The internal surface area of just one gram could stretch out to cover five 94-by-50-foot basketball courts, or 23,500 square feet. And, once caught inside, radioactive iodides will remain trapped for eons.

“This type of material has tremendous potential because of its high porosity,” says Jing Li, professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. “It has far more space than a sponge and it can trap lots of stuff.”

Reprocessing means separating spent nuclear reactor fuel into materials that may be recycled for use in new nuclear fuel or discarded as waste, according to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The United States has no commercial reprocessing facilities at the moment, but they are operating in other countries.