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The Argonne SuperGel for CBRN Decontamination


The Argonne SuperGel was developed between 2003 and 2015 to fill a gap in our nation’s capability to quickly decontaminate important structures following a radiological or nuclear release event. Specifically, the decontamination technology was developed to minimize damage to monuments, high valued structures, and critical infrastructure while reducing environmental and health impacts. An important criterion during its development, common reagents were employed that could be easily acquired in order to minimize the timeline for its deployment. Its current formulation uses off-the-shelf super-absorbing hydrogels common to the food and agricultural industry and common salts. Over the years, two formulations of the Argonne SuperGel have been developed to specifically target radioactive cesium contaminations and then, more generically, actinide and fission product contaminations. A biodegradable derivative of phosphoric acid is used in small amounts to promote the removal of insoluble actinide species

The original order of unit operations for the SuperGel technology was 1) applying the wash solution to promote mobility of the contaminants on the surface, 2) applying the hydrogel to absorb the wash solution and contaminants, and 3) removing the hydrogel for disposal. During the course of our studies, we tested a new formulation of the gel technology that eliminated the need for a separate step to apply the wash solution without a compromise in decontamination factors. Greater than 70% and >95% of Cs-137 were removed from concrete and tile coupons, respectively, after two decontaminations, with the best results using wash solutions of 1.0 M KCl and 1.0 M NH4Cl formulations. We found no statistical difference between results at 30°C and 40°C or at 70% and 90% relative humidity. We tested the gel under strong UV irradiation to simulate extreme environments. While a tropical noontime UV flux did not adversely affect the gel system decontamination of Cs-137 from concrete or tile coupons, the noontime flux resulted in significant dehydration of the gel after two hours of constant exposure. The rehydration of the gel by the humid air (at 90% humidity and 40ºC) was slow and may not be sufficient to offset dehydration by the sun. Americium decontamination from concrete was 70% after optimizing the phosphoric acid derivative and carbonate salt concentration in the wash solution.

Worker applied the Argonne SuperGel to the coupons imbedded in a steel wall and removed the
hydrogel by wet-dry vacuum
Worker applied the Argonne SuperGel to the coupons imbedded in a steel wall and removed the hydrogel by wet-dry vacuum

Since its development, we have had the opportunity to test the SuperGel in the removal of legacy contaminations in hot cell facilities and former glovebox facilities at Argonne. This has provided a unique opportunity to evaluate the SuperGel on a range of contaminants outside the original specifications for its use. We will report on the origin of the gel formulation, some highlighted experimental data including independent testing by the US EPA which has never been reported, and its efficacy for removing legacy alpha contaminations and its potential use for removal of chemical and biological hazardous agents.

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