PULLMAN – Chemist Nathalie Wall of Washington State University and a colleague at Oak Ridge National Laboratory
have been awarded more than $600,000 from the Department of Energy for a study of how a radioactive isotope moves in soil and water.

Information from the study will help scientists understand and predict radioactive particle migration on the Hanford Site. 

Chemists know quite a bit about the solubility and movement of radioactive materials in some chemical states, but have little information about other natural conditions. Wall’s study concerns chemical behavior in states of limited oxygen, those often found in soils and groundwater.

The study focuses on technetium, a radioactive element in nuclear waste that is also used in medical imaging studies for cancer and heart disease. 

“We’ll study how technetium behaves with respect to ligands and colloids,” Wall said. “I’ll be generating the thermodynamic constants that can help geochemical modeling of waste movement at Hanford and other waste sites around the world.”  

The grant will run for three years and help support a WSU graduate student. Wall will conduct her portion of the work in chemistry department facilities in Fulmer Hall and at WSU’s Nuclear Radiation Center.  

WSU fields several major researchers who do pioneering work in radiochemistry, and WSU often graduates 50 percent or more of all new Ph.D.’s in the U.S. who have training in radiochemistry. WSU is unusual in having a reactor on campus, a facility which allows avenues for research not available to many chemists.   The technetium grant proposal to the DOE was the first grant Wall has ever written. 

“It’s very exciting,” she said. “And I’m grateful for the opportunity to do this work.”