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WSU chemists receive $3 million grant

A research team, led by WSU chemistry professor Kenneth Nash, was awarded a $3 million, three-year grant by the Department of Energy to pursue nuclear energy research.

The group is one of eleven university-led teams acros
s the nation selected to conduct cooperative research projects under the DOE’s Nuclear Energy Research Initiative (NERI). The grants engage professors and students in advanced nuclear fuel cycle research and development in support of President Bush’s Global Nuclear Energy Partnership and his American Competitiveness Initiative. The NERI grants will total up to $30 million nationwide over the three years.

“The award supports the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, which is an important part of the U.S. Energy Act,” said Sue Clark, who is a team member and chair of the WSU Department of Chemistry.

“The federal government is investing in energy for the future, which translates into energy security. Nuclear is an established energy alternative that generates no carbon dioxide, so there is interest at the federal level to further study nuclear energy while also exploring new options such as hydrogen, solar, and other alternatives. GNEP is an investment that should renew our nuclear energy infrastructure in the United States and allow our nation to participate in the global nuclear energy market.”

The WSU project is focused on developing chemical separations needed to institute nuclear fuel reprocessing in the United States. This will involve developing the separations needed to remove isotopes that poison the nuclear reactions that release the needed energy.

“For example,” said Clark, “Used fuel, which is currently disposed of in the United States after a single use in a reactor in what is called an open fuel cycle, would be reprocessed to extract out a significant fraction of re-useable uranium. Thus, only those isotopes that reduce the efficiency of the nuclear fuel, would be disposed of, creating a closed fuel cycle.”

The grant will also be used to host an annual workshop focused on developing chemical separations for the fuel cycle designed for undergraduate and graduate students, post doctorate fellows and faculty from collaborating institutions and a summer school course for any U.S. undergraduates interested in the field.

Chemistry professor Pat Meier is the third WSU team member. The team also includes members at three national research labs, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Idaho National Laboratory and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; and at Hunter College (CUNY), Tennessee Technological University, University of New Mexico and the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.

In making the announcement last month, Assistant Secretary of Nuclear Energy Dennis Spurgeon said, “These awards will strengthen DOE’s commitment to expanding the vital role America’s universities play in supporting the advancement and expansion of nuclear power. Developing stronger research partnerships with our educational institutions is a priority for developing environmentally responsible, reliable, and safe nuclear power to serve the United States’ future energy needs.”

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