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Waste Not, Want Not

Nuclear Knowledge

Researcher working to keep nuclear waste isolated


Nuclear waste repositories are designed to be secure for millions of years. As such, identifying the most appropriate barrier materials to isolate nuclear waste is vitally important. Qinhong “Max” Hu, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, is figuring it out.

Dr. Hu recently won a three-year $567,831 grant from the Department of Energy’s Nuclear Energy University Program to investigate six different kinds of low-permeable rock formations as potential barrier materials.

“We need to be sure that we have chosen the materials that are most appropriate, that will be least affected by leakage from the nuclear containers, as well as from weather events that result in liquid seepage,” he says. “These pore spaces can be very small, nanometers instead of microns, with an extremely low permeability even tighter than the kitchen-top granite, and we need innovative ways to characterize these tiny pore structures to enhance the isolation.”

Some of Hu’s work will be carried out using a small angle neutron scattering technique at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Doctoral students will work on the project, giving them the experience of working at top national laboratories before they earn their degrees.

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