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    The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
    • 2017-07-31 14:05:07
    • Article ID: 678794

    Nuclear Energy Comes Full Circle: Argonne Takes Part in the Start-Up and Shut Down of Nuclear Reactors

    • Credit: Argonne National Laboratory

      An image of the Experimental Boiling Water Reactor (EBWR) in 1956. The EBWR generated plutonium-based electricity for Argonne's physical plant in 1966. When it was decommissioned the following year by Argonne’s D&D Projects Group, EBWR had established a reputation as the forerunner of many commercial nuclear energy plants.

    • Credit: Dave Jacque/Argonne National Laboratory

      The containment dome that housed the last of the "Chicago Pile" series of reactors, CP-5, and its support building, are no more. "Above grade demolition" was completed June 17, 2010, 12 days ahead of schedule.

    • Credit: Argonne National Laboratory

      Inside the Chicago Pile-5 reactor (CP-5), the last of the original research projects leading to modern nuclear reactors. CP-5 provided neutrons for experiments on the structure and behavior of materials. It started operation in 1954 and was used until 1979.

    Since the dawn of the nuclear era 75 years ago, when the world’s first nuclear chain reaction ignited at the University of Chicago, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory has built up a legacy developing nuclear power for peaceful purposes. For evidence, look no further than today’s commercial nuclear reactors, which evolved from Argonne reactors’ designs and experiments to now suppling nearly 20% of U.S. electricity.

    That legacy comes full circle through Argonne’s Decontamination and Decommissioning (D&D) Program, which has led the way in decommissioning nuclear facilities at the lab and around the world for over 40 years.

    “Argonne was one of the first sites that decommissioned a significant number of facilities beginning in 1977. We helped the DOE and the industry get their legs under themselves on the decommissioning process.” 

    “Argonne was one of the first sites that decommissioned a significant number of facilities beginning in 1977. We helped the DOE and the industry get their legs under themselves on the decommissioning process,” said Larry Boing, an Argonne decommissioning subject matter expert with over 38 years of experience.

    Along with several small-scale projects, Argonne’s D&D team has led the decommissioning of nine large-scale facilities at Argonne, including the Experimental Boiling Water Reactor (EBWR), an early prototype of reactors used for power generation, and Argonne’s Chicago Pile 5 (CP-5), a research reactor that provided neutrons, tiny particles that exist within atoms, for experiments for over 20 years.

    Today, Boing and his team have broadened their original scope and have grown into providing expert technical support, knowledge management and other training to national and international groups looking to do their own decommissioning projects.

    As a spin-off of this work, Argonne organizes and directs a team of decommissioning experts who, over the last 20 years, have trained over 2,400 people from 65 countries on the proper steps for decommissioning, from safe shutdown, licensing issues, project management to waste management and environmental assessments, up to and including conducting final site radiation surveys.

    Most recently, Argonne has expanded to the international arena, including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the central intergovernmental forum for co-operation in nuclear science. The laboratory has also engaged regions in Asia, North America and Europe.

    “The importance of the training we provide cannot be overstated, especially when you consider our aging nuclear workforce, the slow and gradual decline in the number of people graduating with nuclear engineering or health physics degrees and the shortage of college programs that specifically address decommissioning,” Boing said.

    “By managing and sharing this information, we’re protecting the knowledge and lessons learned for generations to come. We’re also helping build confidence and trust among the public and other key stakeholders by showing them that these facilities can be maintained safely and effectively throughout their entire life cycle.”

    According to Boing, the process for safely decommissioning a facility generally proceeds in four key steps. These same steps apply for all different kinds of facilities, including research reactors, which are non-power reactors that typically provide neutrons for research purposes; commercial reactors, which are used to generate electricity; and gloveboxes, which supply transparent containment units in which hazardous materials are handled.

    First is shutting down the site and removing operational waste. The second is to develop a decommissioning plan, including a schedule and budget, and get it approved and licensed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The next step is to execute the plan in a strategic manner, then lastly, to assess the thoroughness of the process in accordance with the preapproved plan.

    Many different considerations go into developing a decommissioning plan, including the amount and types of materials and waste that are on the site and the other contractors or specialists involved. The plan must also consider the procedures for removing and disposing materials on the site, which could require the licensee to provide workers with specialized training or deploy shielding or other equipment, such as remote or semi-remote systems.

    “Depending on the risk level of the site, the process for regulatory approval could take months or several years to be fully completed, and thereafter allow the decommissioning work to start. It can take a couple years or even up to 10 years depending on the type of site you’re working on,” Boing said.

    Once plans are approved, the licensee and contractors can begin working that plan – removing equipment in a pre-mediated process, moving towards the ‘hotter’ or more radioactive pieces, Boing said. When removing waste, workers must make sure that it is classified correctly and put into the correct configuration to be handled appropriately for shipping and ultimately disposal at a licensed off-site waste facility.

    Finally, to assess whether a site has met agreed-upon standards for cleanup, contractors often rely on benchmarking tools like RESRAD. RESRAD, which refers to RESidual RADioactive materials, is a suite of software tools developed by the Environmental Science Division of Argonne National Laboratory. It has been used to derive cleanup criteria for hundreds of sites including the CP-5 reactor and other Argonne facilities.

    Today RESRAD is widely used in more than 100 countries to evaluate radioactively contaminated sites and establish cleanup criteria. The tool calculates radiological dose and risk to humans, plants and animals through multiple pathways including direct exposure, inhalation of particulates and radon, and ingestion of plant foods, meat, milk, aquatic foods, water and soil.   

    “Without RESRAD it would be much harder to prove scientifically that a site is clean,” said researcher Charley Yu, the Argonne lead for the RESRAD program. “Other codes can calculate dose, but RESRAD is specifically developed to derive cleanup criteria for radiologically contaminated sites.”

    Throughout the process, project management, waste management and stakeholder engagement are three key areas that the licensee must manage well to be successful, Boing said.

    Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation's first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America's scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.

    The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit the Office of Science website

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    Sierra Snowpack Could Drop Significantly By End of Century

    A future warmer world will almost certainly feature a decline in fresh water from the Sierra Nevada mountain snowpack. Now a new study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory that analyzed the headwater regions of California's 10 major reservoirs, representing nearly half of the state's surface storage, found they could see on average a 79 percent drop in peak snowpack water volume by 2100.

    The Biermann Battery Effect: Spontaneous Generation of Magnetic Fields and Their Severing

    The mechanism responsible for creating intense magnetic fields in laser-driven plasmas also helps tear the fields apart.

    Compelling Evidence for Small Drops of Perfect Fluid

    Nuclear physicists analyzing data from the PHENIX detector at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) have published additional evidence that collisions of miniscule projectiles with gold nuclei create tiny specks of the perfect fluid that filled the early universe.

    Topological Matters: Toward a New Kind of Transistor

    An experiment has demonstrated, for the first time, electronic switching in an exotic, ultrathin material that can carry a charge with nearly zero loss at room temperature. Researchers demonstrated this switching when subjecting the material to a low-current electric field.

    Experiments at PPPL show remarkable agreement with satellite sightings

    Feature describes striking similarity of laboratory research findings with observations of the four-satellite Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission that studies magnetic reconnection in space.

    New X-ray imaging approach could boost nanoscale resolution for Advanced Photon Source Upgrade

    A long-standing problem in optics holds that an improved resolution in imaging is offset by a loss in the depth of focus. Now, scientists are joining computation with X-ray imaging as they develop a new and exciting technique to bypass this limitation.

    Two-dimensional materials skip the energy barrier by growing one row at a time

    News Release RICHLAND, Wash. -- A new collaborative study led by a research team at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and University of California, Los Angeles could provide engineers new design rules for creating microelectronics, membranes, and tissues, and open up better production methods for new materials.

    Blasting Molecules with Extreme X-Rays

    To understand how damage from high-energy X-rays affects imaging studies, scientists supported by the Department of Energy shot the most powerful X-ray laser in the world at a series of atoms and molecules. Surprisingly, the atoms within the molecules acted far differently than the isolated ones.

    Scientists Enter Unexplored Territory in Superconductivity Search

    Scientists mapping out the quantum characteristics of superconductors--materials that conduct electricity with no energy loss--have entered a new regime. Using newly connected tools named OASIS at Brookhaven Lab, they've uncovered previously inaccessible details of the "phase diagram" of one of the most commonly studied "high-temperature" superconductors.

    Human Exposures and Health Effects Associated with Unconventional Oil and Gas Development

    The Health Effects Institute (HEI) convened an Energy Research Committee to help ensure the protection of public health during such development. A symposium at the 2018 Society for Risk Analysis (SRA) Annual Meeting will summarize the Committee's review approach and preliminary findings and provide initial options for future research intended to fill knowledge gaps.


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    Costas Soukoulis elected to National Academy of Inventors

    Costas Soukoulis, Ames Laboratory senior scientist and Iowa State University Frances M. Craig Endowed Chair and Distinguished Professor, has been named as a 2018 National Academy of Inventors (NAI) Fellow.

    Biophysicist F. William Studier Elected Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors

    F. William Studier, a Senior Biophysicist Emeritus at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory and Adjunct Professor of Biochemistry at Stony Brook University, has been elected as a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI). He is among 148 renowned academic inventors being recognized by NAI for 2018.

    Blast to the future

    A grant from DOE's Technology Commercialization Fund will help researchers at Argonne and industry partners seek improvements to U.S. manufacturing by making discovery and design of new materials more efficient.

    Department of Energy to Provide $24 Million for Computer-Based Materials Design

    The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced plans to provide $24 million in new and renewal research awards to advance the development of sophisticated software for computer-based design of novel materials.

    Argonne scientists recognized for decades of pioneering leadership in research

    Argonne scientists Ali Erdemir and Jack Vaughey were named 2018 Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

    Kurfess, Smith join ORNL to lead advanced manufacturing initiatives

    Two leaders in US manufacturing innovation, Thomas Kurfess and Scott Smith, are joining the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory to support its pioneering research in advanced manufacturing.

    Four Berkeley Lab Scientists Named AAAS Fellows

    Four Berkeley Lab scientists - Allen Goldstein, Sung-Hou Kim, Susannah Tringe, and Katherine Yelick - have been named Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world's largest general scientific society.

    U.S. Department of Energy to Host Nationwide CyberForce Competition(tm) December 1

    Students from dozens of colleges/universities will participate in the U.S. Department of Energy's CyberForce Competition(tm) this weekend

    Seven ORNL researchers named 2019 INCITE award winners

    Seven researchers from the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory have been chosen by the Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment, also known as INCITE, program to lead scientific investigations that require the nation's most powerful computers. The ORNL-based projects span a broad range of the scientific spectrum and represent the potential of high-performance computing in ensuring America's scientific competitiveness and energy security.

    DOE Laboratories Win Gordon Bell Prize

    Two U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) National Laboratories were recently awarded the 2018 Association for Computing Machinery's (ACM's) Gordon Bell Prize.


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    The Biermann Battery Effect: Spontaneous Generation of Magnetic Fields and Their Severing

    The mechanism responsible for creating intense magnetic fields in laser-driven plasmas also helps tear the fields apart.

    Subtlety and the Selective Art of Separating Lanthanides

    Unexpected molecular interactions involving water clusters have a subtle, yet profound, effect on extractants picking their targets.

    Review Examines the Science and Needs of Nitrogen-Based Transformations

    Advances in biochemistry and catalysis could lead to faster, greener nitrogen-rich fertilizer.

    Quickly Capture Tiny Particles Reacting

    New method takes a snapshot every millisecond of groups of light-scattering particles, showing what happens during industrially relevant reactions.

    New Technology Consistently Identifies Proteins from a Dozen Cells

    A new platform melding microfluidics and robotics allows more in-depth bioanalysis with fewer cells than ever before.

    Optimal Foraging: How Soil Microbes Adapt to Nutrient Constraints

    How microbial communities adjust to nutrient-poor soils at the genomic and proteomic level gives scientists insights into land use.

    Microbes Eat the Same in Labs and the Desert

    Analyses of natural communities forming soil crusts agree with laboratory studies of isolated microbe-metabolite relationships.

    Diverse Biofeedstocks Have High Ethanol Yields and Offer Biorefineries Flexibility

    Evidence suggests that biorefineries can accept various feedstocks without negatively impacting the amount of ethanol produced per acre.

    Opening Access to Explore the Synthetic Chemistry of Neptunium

    New, easily prepared starting material opens access to learning more about a difficult-to-control element in nuclear waste.

    Tiny Titanium Barrier Halts Big Problem in Fuel-Producing Solar Cells

    New design coats molecular components and dramatically improves stability under tough, oxidizing conditions.


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