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Researchers get $5.25 million to advance nuclear technologies in South Carolina

Clemson University

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IMAGE: Brian Powell and student Tara Matheny collect sediment samples from Lake Hartwell to perform sediment dating using 210Pb isotopes. view more

Credit: Clemson University

A team of environmental scientists and engineers, led by Clemson University associate professor Brian Powell, was awarded a three-year, $5.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy's Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research to make a direct positive impact on South Carolina in the advancement of monitoring, remediation and disposal of radioactive contaminants.

"Understanding the scientific and engineering needs for safely and adequately dealing with environmental aspects of nuclear technologies is imperative if South Carolina is to make a positive and meaningful contribution to the future of nuclear energy," said Powell.

The objective of the project is to address key scientific issues identified by several Department of Energy (DOE) programs that limit the present understanding of radionuclide behavior in natural and engineered systems in support of closure of DOE legacy weapons production sites, disposal of radioisotope-bearing wastes and disposal of spent nuclear fuel from commercial energy production.

The key issues to be addressed include identifying source terms for contaminants in geologic disposal scenarios, determining the chemical speciation of contaminants, delineating the biogeochemical and physical processes through which contaminant transport is manifested, and predicting contaminant mobility across wide temporal and spatial scales.

To address the multidisciplinary nature of these problems, the research team members have expertise in nuclear engineering, radiochemistry, health physics, plant physiology, environmental science, hydrogeology, geophysics, computational modeling and civil engineering.

"Through this grant, we will produce intellectual capital, establish a research testbed capable of monitoring radionuclide transport through waste forms and soils, and develop highly integrative reactive transport models," Powell said.

This project also will incorporate an outreach program where scientists and engineers involved in this work will visit high schools throughout South Carolina to offer presentations on nuclear energy, nuclear waste cleanup and environmental aspects of nuclear technologies.

"Due to the high level of nuclear-related activities within the state of South Carolina, having educational and research programs to support these activities is critical for economic development," he said.

The scope and potential impacts of this work are consistent with the South Carolina Vision 2025 plan to advance the state's capacity in science and technology by developing nationally and globally competitive, multi-disciplinary research centers to "address complex problems and opportunities that are unique to South Carolina."

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This material is based upon work supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Basic Energy Sciences under grant no. DE-SC0012530. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Basic Energy Sciences.

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