Radium sulfate powder
​Radium sulfate powder

New study on radium - one of the least explored basic elements

​Radium is one of the most radiotoxic elements and is very hard to do research on because of its nature. Since the 1930’s the scientific achievements within this field have practically been absent, due to this fact. Now PhD student Artem Matyskin defends his thesis on the solubility of some radium compounds.​
In the different waste streams, for example, repository of nuclear waste there will always parts of Radium. Due to its high radioactivity it is considered as a high risk for the environment, if it would leak. To know more about what would happen if Radium would pour out in nature Artem Matyskin has investigated the solubility of radium sulfate and carbonate.

What is your thesis about?
I have focused on radium. It has no stable isotopes so it is a very rare laboratory material, but we got our material from the Sahlgrenska hospital in Gothenburg, where it has been used for cancer treatment in the beginning of the last century. Nowadays radium is not used for cancer treatment anymore. This is waste now and it is very highly radioactive. Artem Matyskin

Why do you research this field? 
Radium decays very slowly. Its half-life is 1600 years and at the same time it is very toxic. If you have a nuclear waste repository, you will, after a few thousand years also have significant amounts of radium in it because of other materials decaying and becoming radium. If the repository is damaged and the radium leaks there might be severe consequences for the surrounding area. Since there are plans to build final nuclear waste repository in Sweden and radium will be present in these repositories, there is a discussion about what will happen in case of leakage and water intrusion into the nuclear waste and the studies are financed by the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority. My study is a part of the long-term safety assessment. 

What did you do?
I investigated the solubility of radium sulfate and carbonate.  The data is very limited since it is so hard to get radium so there is not so much discovered around radium. I have worked with radium sulfate and radium carbonite because sulphate and carbonate are very common in nature and likely to bond to radium and precipitate, so when the radium reaches sulphite or carbonite my theory was that it will stop there. The most demanding parts of my work has been safety. To secure a totally safe conduction of my experiments has always been first priority, since the consequences of a mistake might cause severe damage. 

Tell us about your results!
Because of the rareness of radium as a laboratory material for studies I have had much that seem fundamental and long since known when it comes to other basic elements, yet to discover. So even if measuring the solubility of a basic compounds seems simple, it really isn’t when it comes to radium. My results show that radium easily precipitate with sulphate, which means that a leakage of radium into the ground very likely would result in much precipitation of radium sulfate, since sulphate is very common in the earth crust. Regarding radium carbonate there wasn’t any tests to compare with so these results are completely new. They show that the solubility of radium carbonate is very high, which means that the precipitation of radium and carbonite is very limited. 

Text: Mats Tiborn

Published: Fri 16 Nov 2018.