Technology  November 29, 2013

Tracking nuclear emissions

Ever since the nuclear power plant leak in Fukushima, Japan that began in 2011, nuclear energy has come under increased criticism from some camps as a dangerous power source.

But now, two of Colorado’s universities are poised to try and make nuclear energy a safer, more reliable energy option.

The University of Colorado-Boulder and the Colorado School of Mines in Golden will receive approximately $1.6 million to advance their nuclear research programs, it was announced Sept. 20. Both universities’ approved research projects focused on technologies to more accurately measure and track the radioactive emissions and particles that are byproducts of nuclear energy generation.

The funding is part of a $60 million investment by the U.S. Energy Department to colleges and universities through its Nuclear Energy University Programs, which since 2009 have awarded nearly $300 million to American colleges and universities to fund nuclear energy research projects and enhance and maintain university research reactors.

“By supporting cutting-edge nuclear science and engineering across our universities, national labs and industry, we can strengthen the foundation for a continuing important role for nuclear energy in America’s low carbon future,´ said energy secretary Ernest Moniz, in an Energy Department press release announcing the funding.

The announcement followed closely on the release of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan in June, which proposes to “drive American leadership in clean energy technologies,” including “the safe and secure use of nuclear power.”

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, nuclear power plants have supplied around 20 percent of the nation’s electricity since the early 1990s, a number that is expected to increase with the push for clean, renewable power sources.

“Nuclear energy is a significant part of the electrical power mix in the U.S. and overseas,´ said Joel Ullom, a lecturer in the physics department at CU and a researcher at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder.

Ullom was awarded approximately $800,000 through the Nuclear Energy University Programs to develop technology to make it easier to measure gamma-rays, alpha particles, X-rays and other radioactive emissions related to the nuclear fuel cycle. (The final funding amount will be established by the Energy Department during the award negotiation phase.) The project will be a collaboration between scientists at CU, NIST and the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

“Accurate materials accounting is an important part of the safe operation of nuclear facilities,” Ullom said. “Hence, there is a need for technologies that make materials accounting and safeguards more complete.”

Research at Mines

Colorado School of Mines was also awarded approximately $800,000for a nuclear research project, headed by Ning Wu, an assistant professor in the Chemical and Biological Engineering Department.

The project is a multidisciplinary research effort between professors in the Chemical and Biological Engineering and Petroleum Engineering Departments at School of Mines and two research scientists from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington.

The research team plans to study the movement of radioactive particles through porous materials (such as soil) under the influence of coupled physical and chemical reactions.

“Because of the high affinity of backfill materials to radionuclides, they could be potential hazards if they are released into groundwater under situations such as corrosion or flooding,” Wu explained. “It is important to understand how those radionuclide-carrying particles transport under complex underground conditions.”

The team’s experimental findings will be compared with computer simulations to gain a deeper understanding of the movements of radioactive particles under realistic water-flow conditions.

Colorado School of Mines also received an additional award of $38,528 “to support research reactor and infrastructure improvements” via a proposal submitted by Jeffrey King, program director of the Nuclear Science and Engineering Program.

These funds will be used to make upgrades to the control room at the U.S. Geological Survey TRIGA Reactor, the state’s only operating nuclear reactor and a teaching laboratory for nuclear engineering students. The improvements will give students better access to the nuclear reactor console and increase the maximum allowable class size.

In order to apply for the Nuclear Energy University Programs awards, researchers first submitted pre-proposals. The Energy Department performed an initial review to determine whether each proposed project aligns with the Office of Nuclear Energy’s mission and to discuss each project’s technical merit. After this initial review, researchers were invited to submit a full proposal, which was subjected to a rigorous peer-review process.

The CU and School of Mines researchers expect to receive the Energy Department funding and begin their research projects and infrastructure improvements in early 2014.

Ever since the nuclear power plant leak in Fukushima, Japan that began in 2011, nuclear energy has come under increased criticism from some camps as a dangerous power source.

But now, two of Colorado’s universities are poised to try and make nuclear energy a safer, more reliable energy option.

The University of Colorado-Boulder and the Colorado School of Mines in Golden will receive approximately $1.6 million to advance their nuclear research programs, it was announced Sept. 20. Both universities’ approved research projects focused on technologies to more accurately measure and track the radioactive emissions and particles that are byproducts of nuclear…

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