Water Corrodes Copper

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According to a current concept, copper canisters of thickness 0.05 m will be safe for nuclear waste containment for 100,000 years. We show that more than 1 m copper thickness might be required for 100,000 years durability based on water exposures of copper for 20 h, 7 weeks, 15 years, and 333 years. An observed evolution of hydrogen which involves heterogeneous catalysis of molecular hydrogen, first principles simulations, thermodynamic considerations and corrosion product characterization provide further evidence that water corrodes copper resulting in the formation of a copper hydroxide. These findings cast additional doubt on copper for nuclear waste containment and other important applications.

• There is an evolution of hydrogen in reaction with copper metal in liquid water at room-temperature which is evidence for corrosion of copper by water. This hydrogen evolution takes place up to a pressure which greatly exceeds the hydrogen pressure in air.
• Early experimental results, favoured hydroxide formation, and our first principles simulations concerning copper stability are consistent with our present experimental results which involves catalytic properties of a copper hydroxide.
• Contrary to the accepted view, pure water does indeed corrode copper.
• By linking together exposures with widely varying durations of copper to liquid water without or negligible O2, a realistic extrapolation is made to predict that more than 1 m thickness of copper is required for a 100,000 year lifetime at room-temperature.

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