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    • 2019-03-28 11:05:21
    • Article ID: 710351

    Synergy for Storage: Containing Nuclear Waste for Thousands of Years

    The diverse team at the WastePD Energy Frontier Research Center is learning the secrets of storage materials to contain Cold War leftovers.

    • Credit: Center for Performance and Design of Nuclear Waste Forms and Containers

      Researchers determined the structures that sometimes form where water (blue) and glass (gray) meet. These water-filled cavities can cause the glass to corrode suddenly.

    Browsing the Gilcrease Museum's collection of pre-Columbian American art and tools in Tulsa, OK, one keeps coming back to the obsidian knives, arrowheads (or "projectile points," to anthropologists), and even ear ornaments—glossy black, smooth, and glassy. For tens of thousands of years, indigenous peoples fashioned these items out of cooled lava, beautiful but also able to hold a keen edge for millennia. The same museum collection also features metal knives, some only a few centuries old, already pitted and rusted, and a range of ceramic items in varying stages of deterioration from surprisingly pristine to faded and cracked. Clearly, these different materials—glassy obsidian, earthy ceramic, and metallic—have properties that influence how they stand the test of time.

    "There are difficult issues in understanding how materials corrode over really long time spans," said Gerald Frankel, director of the Center for Performance and Design of Nuclear Waste Forms and Containers (WastePD). "These are scientific issues," he continued. "That's why we need fundamental science."

    Frankel, an Ohio State University professor, focuses that scientific lens on glass, ceramics, and metals used to trap Cold War leftovers, including ~90 million gallons of radioactive liquid and sludge (like wet beach sand). Solidifying the waste as glass or ceramics keeps it from leaking into soil and groundwater. The solid form holds the waste in for thousands of years, giving the radioactive matter time to decay to safer levels.

    To solidify the waste, it's prepared and mixed into the recipes for glass or ceramics. The solidified waste, a.k.a. waste form, is then set in specially designed metal canisters and stored. Defense-related waste in South Carolina is already being glassified. Another such plant is under construction in Washington State.

    Although glass, ceramics, and metal forms have been around for ages, researchers don't yet know key details about how materials crumble, dissolve, or otherwise come undone. "Right now, we don't understand waste form corrosion enough to come up with a good model," said Frankel.

    You can't just go off and do your thing alone. To develop the underlying science necessary to model waste form corrosion, Frankel brought together materials scientists, engineers, computer modelers, and theorists as WastePD, an Energy Frontier Research Center funded by the Department of Energy's (DOE's) Office of Science.

    The different perspectives give the team a broad view of scientific questions. Even better, they offer more techniques, tools, and know-how to get answers. But collaborating, especially across nine time zones, has its challenges. "We spend a lot of time interacting," said Frankel. "You can't just go off and do your thing alone."

    An early win for the team was solving a particularly vexing problem involving water on glass waste forms.

    Time and tide wait for no waste. Researchers assume that during the thousands of years that the waste rests in storage, rainwater or groundwater will get in.

    When glass is covered in water, either a protective or an unstable layer forms. The unstable film speeds glass corrosion, causing the glass to crumble far faster than if it had a protecting film.

    "To determine what drives the formation, we have to look at it in detail," said John Vienna, who leads WastePD's glass thrust area and works at DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

    But the reactions occur underwater. While you could see the surface easily, conventional techniques aren't designed to get accurate data on an underwater surface. "It's been a Holy Grail of chemistry," said Vienna.

    The team found a way by collaborating. Each team member brought in ideas and applied them. It's like bringing together a dozen internationally renowned chefs and asking them to cook a fish, and then combining all that knowledge and techniques to do something nobody's seen before.

    They started by flash freezing pristine water on glass. It's like a frozen, frosted chocolate sheet cake with glass as the cake and water as the icing. They sliced a thin piece, like cutting a tiny serving, and analyzed it. They repeated the experiment every few seconds as the water caused an unstable porous layer to form on the glass, essentially creating a sophisticated flipbook.

    The troubling layer formed by the water and glass reacting scoops out tiny bits of glass from the surface and lets water get in, just as it could at a storage site. The film's structure—how many pores form, how deep, and how far apart—determines how fast the glass crumbles.

    The best is yet to be. "Our collaboration was something of a shotgun wedding at the start," said Vienna. The study of the glass corrosion in water is just one example of how bringing together different people, different instruments, and different ideas can lead a solution. "Now, we're making real progress by using techniques that were only used in one area and ways of looking at the problems."

    The Ohio State University leads WastePD, formed in 2016. It brings together scientists from Commissariat à l'Energie in France, Louisiana State University, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Pennsylvania State University, QuesTek Innovations LLC, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, University of North Texas, and University of Virginia. WastePD is one of 46 Energy Frontier Research Centers funded by the DOE's Office of Science. The centers mobilize the talents of experts and forge teams to lay the scientific groundwork to improve energy production and storage.

    This article is part of a series that explores how scientific teams come together in the Department of Energy's Energy Frontier Research Centers to solve intractable problems.

    The 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 please visit https://science.energy.gov.

    Kristin Manke is a Communications Specialist on detail with the Office of Science, kristin.manke@science.doe.gov.

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    A New Collider Concept Would Take Quantum Theories to an Extreme

    A New Collider Concept Would Take Quantum Theories to an Extreme

    A new idea for smashing beams of elementary particles into one another could reveal how light and matter interact under extreme conditions that may exist on the surfaces of exotic astrophysical objects, in powerful cosmic light bursts and star explosions, in next-generation particle colliders and in hot, dense fusion plasma.

    Unexpected observation of ice at low temperature, high pressure questions ice, water theory

    Unexpected observation of ice at low temperature, high pressure questions ice, water theory

    Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory studying super-cold states of water discovered a pathway to the unexpected formation of dense, crystalline phases of ice thought to exist beyond Earth's limits. Their findings, reported in Nature, challenge accepted theories and could lead to better understanding of ice found on other planets, moons and elsewhere in space.

    New Argonne Battery Design Offers ​"Solid" Advantage

    New Argonne Battery Design Offers ​"Solid" Advantage

    In a new study from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, researchers have identified a new boundary layer that emerges between a lithium metal anode and a lithium transition metal oxide (LLZO) electrolyte, potentially leading to improved battery stability.

    Laser Focus Shines Light on How Nanoparticles Form

    Laser Focus Shines Light on How Nanoparticles Form

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    In a first, researchers identify reddish coloring in an ancient fossil - a 3-million-year-old mouse

    In a first, researchers identify reddish coloring in an ancient fossil - a 3-million-year-old mouse

    Researchers have for the first time detected chemical traces of red pigment in an ancient fossil - an exceptionally well-preserved mouse, not unlike today's field mice, that roamed the fields of what is now the German village of Willershausen around 3 million years ago.

    Improving Isotope Supply for a Cancer-Fighting Drug

    Improving Isotope Supply for a Cancer-Fighting Drug

    Production of actinium-227 ramps up for use in a drug to fight prostate cancer that has spread to bone.

    Extracting Signs of the Elusive Neutrino

    Extracting Signs of the Elusive Neutrino

    Scientists use software to "develop" images that trace neutrinos' interactions in a bath of cold liquid argon.

    Machine learning speeds modeling of experiments aimed at capturing fusion energy on Earth to rapidly predict behavior of plasma that fuels fusion reactions

    Machine learning speeds modeling of experiments aimed at capturing fusion energy on Earth to rapidly predict behavior of plasma that fuels fusion reactions

    Release describes application of machine learning form of artificial intelligence to predict the behavior of fusion plasma.

    Record-shattering underwater sound

    Record-shattering underwater sound

    A team of researchers has produced a record-shattering underwater sound with an intensity that eclipses that of a rocket launch. The intensity was equivalent to directing the electrical power of an entire city onto a single square meter, resulting in sound pressures above 270 decibels.

    CosmoGAN: Training a Neural Network to Study Dark Matter

    CosmoGAN: Training a Neural Network to Study Dark Matter

    A Berkeley Lab-led research group is using a deep learning method known as generative adversarial networks to enhance the use of gravitational lensing in the study of dark matter.


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    Ames Laboratory names James Morris Chief Research Officer

    Ames Laboratory names James Morris Chief Research Officer

    Dr. James Morris has been named Chief Research Officer at the Department of Energy's (DOE) Ames Laboratory. His appointment follows an extensive search and will be effective June 17, 2019.

    Four scientists at PPPL awarded national and international honors

    Four scientists at PPPL awarded national and international honors

    Feature profiles four PPPL scientists who have received high honors.

    Brookhaven's Mircea Cotlet Named a Battelle "Inventor of the Year"

    Brookhaven's Mircea Cotlet Named a Battelle "Inventor of the Year"

    The global science and technology organization Battelle recognized materials scientist Mircea Cotlet of Brookhaven Lab's Center for Functional Nanomaterials for his research in applying self-assembly methods to control the interfaces between nanomaterials and other light-interacting components.

    Berkeley Lab Project to Pinpoint Methane 'Super Emitters'

    Berkeley Lab Project to Pinpoint Methane 'Super Emitters'

    Methane, a potent greenhouse gas that traps about 30 times more heat than carbon dioxide, is commonly released from rice fields, dairies, landfills, and oil and gas facilities - all of which are plentiful in California. Now Berkeley Lab has been awarded $6 million by the state to find "super emitters" of methane in an effort to quantify and potentially mitigate methane emissions.

    Cryogenics equipment maker licenses ORNL auto-fill method for more efficient liquid helium use

    Cryogenics equipment maker licenses ORNL auto-fill method for more efficient liquid helium use

    Advanced Research Systems has licensed an ORNL technology designed to automatically refill liquid helium used in laboratory equipment for low-temperature scientific experiments, which will reduce downtime, recover more helium and increase overall efficiency.

    New Argonne coating could have big implications for lithium batteries

    New Argonne coating could have big implications for lithium batteries

    In a new discovery, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have developed a new cathode coating by using an oxidative chemical vapor deposition technique. The new coating can keep the battery's cathode electrically and ionically conductive and ensures that the battery stays safe after many cycles.

    Argonne's Chain Reaction Innovations appoints first advisory council

    Argonne's Chain Reaction Innovations appoints first advisory council

    World-class energy leaders will offer their expertise to Chain Reaction Innovations (CRI), the entrepreneurship program at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory, as part of a new Advisory Council announced today. CRI has named 14 Advisory Council members, including investors, industry experts and business executives, to help guide its growth and strategy.

    ORNL, Lincoln Electric to Advance Large-Scale Metal Additive Manufacturing Technology

    ORNL, Lincoln Electric to Advance Large-Scale Metal Additive Manufacturing Technology

    The new agreement builds upon ORNL and Lincoln Electric's previous developments by extending additive technology to new materials, leveraging data analytics and enabling rapid manufacture of metal components in excess of 100 pounds per hour.

    Students from Minnesota and Massachusetts Win DOE's 29th National Science Bowl(r)

    Students from Wayzata High School in Plymouth, Minnesota, won the 2019 U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) National Science Bowl(r) (NSB) today in Washington, D.C. In the middle school competition, students from Jonas Clarke Middle School in Lexington, Massachusetts, took home first place.

    Five new innovators join Chain Reaction Innovations in third cohort

    Five new innovators join Chain Reaction Innovations in third cohort

    Five new innovators will be joining Chain Reaction Innovations (CRI), the entrepreneurship program at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Argonne National Laboratory, as part of the elite program's third cohort. Announced on Monday, April 22, these innovators were selected following an extensive national solicitation process and two-part pitch competition, with reviews from industry experts, investors, scientists and engineers.


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    Laser Focus Shines Light on How Nanoparticles Form

    Laser Focus Shines Light on How Nanoparticles Form

    Titan supercomputer tells origin story of nanoparticle size distributions with large-scale simulations.

    Improving Isotope Supply for a Cancer-Fighting Drug

    Improving Isotope Supply for a Cancer-Fighting Drug

    Production of actinium-227 ramps up for use in a drug to fight prostate cancer that has spread to bone.

    Extracting Signs of the Elusive Neutrino

    Extracting Signs of the Elusive Neutrino

    Scientists use software to "develop" images that trace neutrinos' interactions in a bath of cold liquid argon.

    Slow Charge Generation Plays Big Role in Model Material for Solar Cells

    Slow Charge Generation Plays Big Role in Model Material for Solar Cells

    Insight about energy flow in copper-based material could aid in creating efficient molecular electronics.

    Capturing Energy Flow in a Plasma by Measuring Scattered Light

    Capturing Energy Flow in a Plasma by Measuring Scattered Light

    First measurements of heat flux in plasmas experientially sheds light on models relying on classical thermal transport.

    Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning Accelerate Efforts to Develop Clean, Virtually Limitless Fusion Energy

    Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning Accelerate Efforts to Develop Clean, Virtually Limitless Fusion Energy

    The Fusion Recurrent Neural Network reliably forecasts disruptive and destructive events in tokamaks.

    Spin Flipper Upends Protons

    Spin Flipper Upends Protons

    The spin direction of protons was reversed, for the first time, using a nine-magnet device, potentially helping tease out details about protons that affect medical imaging and more.

    Splitting Water Fast! Catalyst Works Faster than Mother Nature

    Splitting Water Fast! Catalyst Works Faster than Mother Nature

    Design principles lead to a catalyst that splits water in a low pH environment, vital for generating solar fuels.

    Sea Quark Spin Surprise!

    Sea Quark Spin Surprise!

    Antiquark spin contribution to proton spin depends on flavor, which could help unlock secrets about the nuclear structure of atoms that make up nearly all visible matter in our universe.

    The Weak Side of the Proton

    The Weak Side of the Proton

    A precision measurement of the proton's weak charge narrows the search for new physics.


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