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Nuclear Engineering Faculty Receive over $1M from DOE in Grant Funding

 
Nuclear Engineering Award winners (left to right): Prof. Steven Biegalski, Assoc. Prof. Erich Schneider, graduate student Bonnie Canion, Asst. Prof. Mark Deinert, graduate student Jack Thompson, Prof. Sheldon Landsberger, and Research Scientist Mitch Pryor.

Nuclear Engineering Award winners (left to right): Prof. Steven Biegalski, Assoc. Prof. Erich Schneider, graduate student Bonnie Canion, Asst. Prof. Mark Deinert, graduate student Jack Thompson, Prof. Sheldon Landsberger, and Research Scientist Mitch Pryor.

 

AUSTIN, TEXAS—June 29, 2012

Four Nuclear and Radiation Engineering faculty members, Drs. Steven Biegalski, Mark Deinert, Sheldon Landsberger, and Erich Schneider have won grants totaling over $1,000,000 through the Department of Energy's (DOE) Nuclear Energy University Program (NEUP) awards recently. Two graduate students, Bonnie Canion (supervised by Prof. Landsberger) and Jack Thompson, (supervised by Research Scientist Mitch Pryor and Prof. Landsberger) have also secured three and four year fellowship funding, bringing the total amount of funding to nearly $1,500,000.

Making Nuclear Energy Safer and More Resistant to Proliferation

Two of these awards support the Department of Energy's mission to foster the development of advanced nuclear energy technologies. Reactors meeting DOE 's criteria must be inherently safe and resistant to proliferation (see sidebar on right for explanation) sabotage and misuse of materials in their fuel cycles. They must also present a minimal waste footprint and provide emissions-free energy at a cost competitive with other technologies.

Reducing Actinide Production Using Inert Matrix Fuels

Asst. Prof. Mark Deinert and Assoc. Prof. Steve Biegalski will receive $435k for their proposal entitled Reducing Actinide Production Using Inert Matrix Fuels. Achieving sustainable disposition of used nuclear fuel is a key objective for the nuclear power industry. The major obstacle to this goal is the presence of actinide isotopes, some of which remain radioactive at low levels for millions of years, in present-day used fuel. Inert matrix fuels are designed to 'burn' these actinides, transforming them into more benign elements while producing electricity. Read more about the nuclear fuel cycle.

Inert matrix fuel technology can be deployed in reactors like those operating today, eliminating costly development cycles for entirely new reactor technologies. Drs. Deinert and Biegalski will use simulation to design and quantify the performance of this fuel in a reactor core.

New Computational Tools for Nuclear Analysis

In response to a request from the Obama administration, DOE is undertaking a comparison of hundreds of competing visions of the nuclear energy future, each resting on different reactor, nuclear fuel and used fuel management technologies. To enable DOE to analyze these diverse concepts on a level playing field, new computational tools are needed. Assoc. Prof. Erich Schneider and Dr. Anthony Scopatz, a 2011 Ph.D. student, will be awarded $395k for their proposal An Integrated Fuel Depletion Calculator for Fuel Cycle Options Analysis. Scopatz is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Chicago and a 2011 graduate of our NRE program. Drs. Schneider and Scopatz will support DOE's decision analysis by developing simulation models of the in-core performance of diverse reactor fuels. This work will enable DOE to make technically sound and well-informed recommendations for further research and development of the best technologies.

Detection of Naturally-Occurring Radioactive Isotopes

In addition to computational modeling of future nuclear energy systems, DOE supports research to extend our ability to detect naturally-occurring radioactive isotopes as well as those created by human activity. Prof. Sheldon Landsberger will be funded $232k for his proposal Implementation of a Low-Level Gamma Ray Counting Facility. An additional matching funding of $50,000 comes from the Cockrell School of Engineering. This dedicated equipment will allow the determination of naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) in soil, rock or other host media, including those from waste residues in the oil and gas exploration industry. Additionally, this apparatus will allow the determination of cesium-137, an isotope released from atmospheric weapons testing and reactor accidents, from soil erosion studies. Precise counting of trace amounts of cesium-137 and other radioactive isotopes allows specialists in nuclear forensics to work backward and deduce information about clandestine weapons tests.

Bonnie Canion, winner of four year Nuclear Forensics Fellowship

Bonnie Canion (supervised by Prof. Landsberger) won a four-year Nuclear Forensics Graduate Fellowship funded by DHS and DTRA and valued at $200k. In the past year, Bonnie has been doing neutron activation analysis on volcanic ash from a 2010 Indonesian volcanic eruption, as well as some leaching analysis. She has finished the project and is writing her thesis on it.  During the past year, she was supported by a university diversity fellowship and advised by Dr. Landsberger.  She is currently spending the summer working in Sandia's Microelectronics and Microsystems Program on detector related research.

Jack Thompson, winner of three year Nuclear Energy University Program (NEUP) Fellowship

Jack Thompson, masters student (co-supervised by Research Scientist Mitch Pryor and Prof. Landsberger) was informed he received the Department of Energy's prestigious three-year Nuclear Energy University Program Fellowship worth approximately $155,000. He was one of only 31 graduate students in the country to receive this award. The award will support his research in human-robot collaboration to improve the safety of nuclear materials handling.


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