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Back to EurekAlert! A Service of the American Association for the Advancement of Science

 

Contributing to a nuclear renaissance

In May 2001, President Bush's National Energy Policy Development Group estimated that during the next 20 years, the demand for electricity in the United States will rise by 45 percent. Among the Group's recommendations for ways to meet this projected growth in electricity demand was the statement that "nuclear power, . . .which causes no greenhouse gas emissions, can play an expanding part in our energy future."

That was a resonant statement to a number of scientists and engineers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Their expertise in nuclear science and technology was already at work on, or could be applied to, projects that would help nuclear power rise to this challenge.

The Laboratory is launching an Advanced Nuclear Science and Technology Initiative (ANSTI), under the leadership of senior scientist Leonard Bond. "Nuclear science and technology is a major component of the Laboratory's current activities," Bond said. "ANSTI is building on our existing capabilities to support a national nuclear renaissance."

Through the initiative, Bond and his team intend to:

  • become recognized national leaders in actinide science, radiation materials science and modeling, and in advanced diagnostics, prognostics and controls

  • support the U.S. Department of Energy missions and other government clients by developing advanced nuclear research and technology capabilities

  • play an integral role regionally and nationally in the development of future nuclear science and engineering professionals.

Resources available at Pacific Northwest for nuclear research and development include 12 facilities containing a total of more than 350 laboratories equipped for work with radiological materials, 11 large specially designed facilities in which staff can work with highly radioactive materials remotely and more than 460 staff who have training and experience in radiological work.

In the area of actinide science research, the Laboratory can fill gaps in the national research program by contributing to development of actinide chemical separations, studying the environmental fate and transport of actinides and contributing ultrasensitive detection technology to DOE's nuclear nonproliferation program. Actinides are a series of chemically similar radioactive elements with atomic numbers ranging from 89 through 103 such as uranium, with atomic number 92.

Today, nuclear power plants generate about 20 percent of the electricity used in the United States. As these plants continue to operate and seek extensions of their operating licenses, Pacific Northwest's research can help answer questions about reactor structural reliability. There also is interest, through DOE's International Nuclear Energy Research Initiative, in development of next-generation nuclear energy systems. Pacific Northwest is developing new materials for these energy systems, and has a novel on-line intelligent self-diagnostic monitoring technology that is applicable to present as well as next-generation nuclear power plants.

Energy production is not the only challenge for nuclear science and technology. The Nuclear Energy Research Advisory Committee reports that the United States faces a crisis relative to its own internal capabilities in nuclear science and engineering. Without strong, decisive action, within 10 years this nation will find it increasingly difficult to:

  • effectively complete the cleanup of its nuclear complex

  • prevent proliferation of nuclear materials

  • guarantee nuclear stockpile stewardship

  • support nuclear-related national security requirements

  • realize the potential and meet the demand for isotopes and radiochemical materials in medical, industrial and space-power applications

  • sustain the pool of workers needed to operate and maintain commercial nuclear reactors.

The Laboratory's new initiative will address these concerns by developing a strategy to address the supply of nuclear science professionals, including providing a focus for establishing educational initiatives through collaborations with DOE, other national laboratories, educational institutions and professional societies.

"These activities will be a catalyst for the development of a robust ANSTI program to meet the needs of the 21st century and they will provide a unique scientific resource that can be used for everything from nuclear power to environmental cleanup," Bond said. "We also will recruit and develop highly qualified staff with nuclear expertise, and develop a regional education network for nuclear science and engineering."

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Special thanks to Richard Romanelli, contributing writer.

 

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