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Alfred University researchers win Department of Energy grants
5/14/12

Two Alfred University professors will receive a combined total of $1.72 million for research through the Nuclear Energy University Programs (NEUP) of the federal Department of Energy. Both projects aim to find solutions for safe disposal of nuclear wastes that are critical to treating legacy defense wastes as well as managing wastes in nuclear power generation.

S.K. Sundaram, Inamori Professor of Materials Science in the Kazuo Inamori School of Engineering at Alfred University, will receive $840,000 for "Alternative High-Performance Ceramic Waste Forms." Co-investigator on the project is Scott Misture, also an Inamori Professor of Materials Science at Alfred. Collaborators are Kevin Fox, a 2000 alumnus of Alfred University, and Kyle Brinkman. Both work at Savannah River National Laboratory, Aiken, SC.

Nathan Mellott, an assistant professor of Materials Science, will receive $880,000 for "Surface Layer-Bulk Glass Interface Evolution with Aqueous Corrosion." Misture is a collaborator with Mellott; other collaborators are Joseph Ryan, who is a 1998 alumnus of Alfred University now working at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, WA, and Glenn Waychunas of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, CA.

"I commend Dr. Sundaram and Dr. Mellott for their efforts to secure these research grants," said Doreen Edwards, dean of the Inamori School of Engineering. "It is a credit to Alfred University, and the quality of the work our faculty and students to advance ceramics and glass education and research."

Forty-six colleges and universities are sharing in the $47 million allocated under the Nuclear Energy University Programs, which include funding for scholarships, fellowships, research grants and university research reactor upgrades "to train and educate the next generation of leaders in America’s nuclear industry," according to the Department of Energy announcement.

Edwards noted that materials scientists have played a significant role in developing solutions for containment of nuclear wastes, which can remain radioactive for a long period of time -- greater than 100,000 years in some cases. Many of the solutions have involved trapping radioactive isotopes in glasses using a process known as "vitrification" or incorporating them into the crystalline structure of ceramics.

"Understanding how different elements are immobilized in glass and ceramics is critical for developing stable wasteforms that must safely contain radioactive materials for millennia. Dr. Sundaram is looking at alternative ceramic materials for storing wastes with high levels of molybdenum, and Dr. Mellott will examining the mechanisms of glass corrosion to better understand its long-term stability." Edwards said.

Sundaram’s project will be looking for new ways to incorporate higher levels of molybdenum and other elements into multiphasic ceramics. He will be synthesizing and characterizing the materials to determine their structure and chemical durability.

Mellott’s work will focus on determination of both the mechanisms and rates of long-term dissolution of nuclear waste glasses. This will be achieved primarily through the reaction of glasses under novel experimental conditions coupled with the utilization of advanced surface characterization techniques and geochemical modeling.

Neither project will involve handling radioactive materials, Edwards said. Instead, the researchers will use non-radioactive isotopes (called "surrogates") to conduct their research. This is a well-accepted way to advance science and engineering of the wasteforms and educate future engineers and scientists to meet the challenges of the nuclear industry and our nation.