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Testing rock formations as barriers for nuclear waste

Toxic waste barrels

Would you trust just any material to protect you from nuclear elements? High-level nuclear waste geological repositories are designed to be secure for millions of years, so the materials forming the barriers should be sound enough to withstand natural events and leakage from the waste containers.

"Max" Qinhong Hu, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, is investigating six types of low-permeable rock formations—including granite and clay—for their potential as barrier materials for nuclear waste repositories. He was awarded a three-year grant of nearly $568,000 from the U.S. Department of Energy's Nuclear Energy University Program for his research.

Dr. Hu will look for materials that are the most appropriate—with respect to geological, physical, and chemical attributes—for isolating and containing any potential leakage of nuclear wastes. He will also investigate how radioactive atoms, or radionuclides, from the waste can move through pore spaces in barrier materials and host rock.

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