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discovered_02_2015 - Down to the atomic level

WWW.HZDR.DE discovered 02.15 TITLE Johann Wolfgang von Goethe already knew that the devil is in the details - or as put in the words of the great German poet: "To revitalize the whole, you'll have to see the smallest bits of it." This old quote fits almost perfectly to the current state of repository research. Andreas Scheinost estimates that about 95 percent of the most important questions are clarified. "However, the remaining five percent encompasses questions of detail that play a decisive role in ensuring that a repository is safe for the storage of radioactive waste." Just as Goethe advises, the HZDR researcher wants to address even the tiniest details that make up the whole - the quest for a safe repository. In order to do so, he has to take a look at processes on a molecular level. And since these occur in extremely small dimensions, Andreas Scheinost is using a "microscope" the size of a soccer stadium: the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility ESRF in Grenoble. On the ring-shaped racetrack with a circumference of 844 meters, electrons are sped up until they are traveling nearly at the speed of light. This process produces X-ray radiation that is 100 billion times more intense than that used in hospitals. This radiation enables scientists at the ESRF to gain deep insights into the structure of matter at more than 40 experimental stations, so-called beamlines. What happens in the repository? Only one of them offers the necessary conditions for nuclear repository research: the Rossendorf Beamline ROBL. "Apart from us, there is only one other beamline in Europe where radioactive samples can be investigated," Andreas Scheinost explains. Accordingly, time slots for performing experiments are in high demand by researchers from all over the world. "On average we tend to be overbooked two to three times over," the director of the "Molecular Structures Division" adds: "Even though ROBL operates around the clock for 200 days a year." The molecular processes occurring in a nuclear waste repository are the focus of the scientific work. "We still don't know precisely how the actinides and other radioactive elements behave in the environment of a future repository," // At the Rossendorf Beamline ROBL in French Grenoble, the sharp minds of researchers enhance the safety of repositories for radioactive waste - and in the past they have thus even disproved some hypotheses from the experts. _TEXT . Simon Schmitt DOWN TO THE ATOMIC LEVEL REALISTIC: Marisol Janeth Lozano Rodriguez investigates the ability of materials to permanently bond to actinides. Photo: AVANGA