DOE News
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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.
    • 2020-09-04 12:55:44
    • Article ID: 737514

    Exploring Oxidative Pathways in Nuclear Fuel

    An international collaboration taps specialized PNNL microscopy

    • Credit: Andrea Starr | PNNL

      The Radiochemical Processing Laboratory at PNNL is home to a JEOL GrandARM-300F scanning transmission electron microscope, here operated by materials scientist Steven Spurgeon. This specialized facility allows unprecedented atomic-scale characterization of nuclear materials, structural alloys, and functional systems in dynamic conditions. RPL is a Hazard Category II non-reactor nuclear research facility.

    • Credit: Andrea Starr | PNNL

      Materials scientist Bethany Matthews uses the Thermo Fisher Helios 660 DualBeam™ Focus Ion Beam Scanning Electron Microscope (FIB-SEM) in PNNL’s RPL for preparation and analysis of radioactive and non-radioactive samples—including metals, oxides, and geologic materials.

    • Credit: Steven Spurgeon | PNNL

      High-resolution imaging reveals defect formation during anoxic dissolution of UO2 thin films.

    by Tim Ledbetter

     

    Powerful atomic-resolution instruments and techniques at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) are revealing new information about the interaction of uranium dioxide (UO2) with water. These new insights will improve the understanding of how spent nuclear fuel will degrade in deep geologic repository environments.  

    UO2 is the primary form of fuel used in commercial nuclear power reactors. During nuclear fission in a reactor, various radionuclides are created within the fuel. Researchers want to know more about UO2, particularly the dissolution mechanisms that come into play when the ceramic material’s surface contacts water. These mechanisms control the release of the majority of the radionuclides, which could have implications for the environment.

    Many laboratory instruments today lack the sensitivity, resolution, and radiological controls necessary to effectively explore UO2 surfaces. However, a one-of-a-kind instrumentation suite at PNNL recently enabled a multi-institute research team to take a closer look at surface areas. The team, representing the University of Cambridge, the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, and PNNL, uncovered key revelations for nuclear energy.

    Geologic disposal and science challenges

    Deep geologic repository concepts being proposed around the world are focused on the saturated zone, where the water is reducing—which can eventually lead to a loss of oxygen—and where UO2 is thermodynamically stable. The challenge remains to develop an approach to examine UO2 with sufficient chemical resolution and fidelity to predict how it might behave in these environments.

    “We’re just now developing the tools we need to answer longstanding questions about nuclear materials,” explains PNNL materials scientist Edgar Buck.

    New techniques produce new information

    In the study, researchers from the University of Cambridge collaborated with PNNL scientists to explore UO2 samples exposed to controlled anoxic corrosion using PNNL’s flagship instrumentation in the Radiochemical Processing Laboratory’s Radiological Microscopy Suite. Also called the “quiet suite,” this belowground room is home to the JEOL GrandARM 300F scanning transmission electron microscope (STEM). Using aberration-corrected scanning transmission electron microscopy and electron energy loss spectroscopy (EELS), the team examined the progression of atomistic structure and defects.

    The PNNL team has previously shown that EELS can map nonequilibrium pathways for oxidation in UO2 that are difficult to probe using other methods.

    “Our approach provides direct information at the atomic scale to improve our models for dissolution,” explains PNNL materials scientist Steven Spurgeon. In turn, better models can help make more accurate, long-term predictions regarding the fate of spent nuclear fuel under anoxic disposal conditions.

    Instruments inform dissolution questions

    In their study, the researchers determined that dissolution initiates at material surface grain boundaries and film cracks. Importantly, they observed no amorphous surface layer formation—or, no loss of its crystalline structure— during the dissolution process. This points to a different process for oxygen substitution. Rather, oxygen substitution occurs at sites in the surface layers of the UO2 lattice. This substitution mechanism appears to create an oxidized passivating layer, which would be responsible for the observed reduction in uranium release as a function of leaching time.

    “The collaboration with PNNL provided us with unique tools to uncover a behavior that would be inaccessible by other means,” says co-author Prof. Ian Farnan of Cambridge. “Through our shared expertise, we were able to show how subtle changes in the surface chemistry of used nuclear fuel can control its dissolution and the release of radioactive elements to the environment—a fundamental requirement for safe disposal.”

    The findings from the study are reported in the team’s paper, “An Atomic-Scale Understanding of UO2 Surface Evolution During Anoxic Dissolution,” published in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces (DOI: 10.1021/acsami.0c09611).

    The research team includes corresponding author Aleksej J. Popel, Ian Farnan, and Beng Thye Tan (University of Cambridge); Buck, Spurgeon, Bethany Matthews, and Matthew J. Olszta (PNNL); and Thomas Gouder and Rachel Eloirdi (European Commission’s Joint Research Centre).

     

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    Neutrons chart atomic map of COVID-19's viral replication mechanism

    Neutrons chart atomic map of COVID-19's viral replication mechanism

    To better understand how the novel coronavirus behaves and how it can be stopped, scientists have completed a three-dimensional map that reveals the location of every atom in an enzyme molecule critical to SARS-CoV-2 reproduction. Researchers at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory used neutron scattering to identify key information to improve the effectiveness of drug inhibitors designed to block the virus's replication mechanism.

    On-surface synthesis of graphene nanoribbons could advance quantum devices

    On-surface synthesis of graphene nanoribbons could advance quantum devices

    An international multi-institution team of scientists has synthesized graphene nanoribbons - ultrathin strips of carbon atoms - on a titanium dioxide surface using an atomically precise method that removes a barrier for custom-designed carbon nanostructures required for quantum information sciences.

    Exploring the source of stars and planets in a laboratory

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    What A Crystal Reveals About Nuclear Materials Processing

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    PNNL researchers devised a new method to probe the atomic structure of plutonium-containing microcrystals using laboratory-based equipment.

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    A new approach boosts lithium-ion battery efficiency and puts out fires, too

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    Berkeley Lab Scientists Contribute to New Exploration of Higgs Boson Interactions

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    New Algorithm Sharpens Focus of World's Most Powerful Microscopes

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    Scientists have shown that an algorithm added to image processing software can improve the resolution and accuracy of cryo-electron microscopes, which are one of the most crucial tools in microbiology and medical research.

    An Electrical Trigger Fires Single, Identical Photons

    An Electrical Trigger Fires Single, Identical Photons

    The precisely controlled photon source, made from an atomically thin semiconducting material, could aid the development of advanced quantum communication


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    A bid for new businesses:  Industry Day on Tuesday, Oct. 27, highlights business opportunities at PPPL

    A bid for new businesses: Industry Day on Tuesday, Oct. 27, highlights business opportunities at PPPL

    PPPL hosts Industry Day on Tuesday, Oct. 27, to highlight plans for a new research building and other capital projects.

    PPPL physicist to receive Edison Award for fusion-powered rocket propulsion

    PPPL physicist to receive Edison Award for fusion-powered rocket propulsion

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    National Virtual Biotechnology Laboratory Symposium, October 28

    National Virtual Biotechnology Laboratory Symposium, October 28

    A virtual symposium to highlight the impact the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) National Virtual Biotechnology Laboratory (NVBL) has had utilizing the unique capabilities of the DOE to tackle the science and technology challenges associated with COVID-19, and to discuss areas in which the NVBL can have impact in the future. The event is aimed at the S&T community, media, and the general public.

    Who Will Get the Prize for Better Hurricane Monitoring?

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    The Ocean Observing Prize seeks competitors for an incentive prize program to help inventors advance new concepts for marine energy technologies that can power ocean observing systems. This phase focuses on observing platforms that host instruments that can provide better data regarding hurricane formation.

    Berkeley Lab Names Noel Bakhtian to Lead New Energy Storage Center

    Berkeley Lab Names Noel Bakhtian to Lead New Energy Storage Center

    Berkeley Lab has appointed Noel Bakhtian, previously a senior policy adviser in the White House Office of Science and Technology (OSTP) and currently director of the Center for Advanced Energy Studies (CAES) at Idaho National Laboratory, as its inaugural director of the Berkeley Lab Energy Storage Center.

    CERN Senior Fellow Dorota Grabowska Receives Leona Woods Lectureship Award

    CERN Senior Fellow Dorota Grabowska Receives Leona Woods Lectureship Award

    Dorota Grabowska, a senior fellow in the department of theoretical physics at CERN, Europe's particle physics laboratory, has been named a recipient of the Leona Woods Distinguished Postdoctoral Lectureship Award. The award was established by the physics department at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory in honor of renowned physicist Leona Woods to celebrate the scientific accomplishments of outstanding female physicists and physicists from other under-represented minority groups, including the LGBTQ community--and to promote diversity and inclusion in the department.

    Process to recover metals from batteries licensed by Momentum Technologies

    Process to recover metals from batteries licensed by Momentum Technologies

    Momentum Technologies Inc., a Dallas, Texas-based materials science company that is focused on extracting critical metals from electronic waste, has licensed an Oak Ridge National Laboratory process for recovering cobalt and other metals from spent lithium-ion batteries.

    PPPL physicist wins third place at Innovation Forum for advanced liquid centrifuge invention

    PPPL physicist wins third place at Innovation Forum for advanced liquid centrifuge invention

    Physicist Erik Gilson won third place at the Princeton University Keller Center's 15th Annual Innovation Forum for his invention with a team of PPPL researchers of an advanced liquid centrifuge.

    Oak Ridge National Laboratory, UT's Tony Schmitz elected to ASPE College of Fellows

    Oak Ridge National Laboratory, UT's Tony Schmitz elected to ASPE College of Fellows

    Tony Schmitz, joint faculty researcher in machining and machine tools at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and mechanical, aerospace and biomedical engineering professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has been elected to the College of Fellows of the American Society for Precision Engineering.

    Coming Down the Pike: Long-Haul Trucks Powered by Hydrogen Fuel Cells

    Coming Down the Pike: Long-Haul Trucks Powered by Hydrogen Fuel Cells

    The Department of Energy has announced several major investments to take hydrogen fuel cells to the next level, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) is set to play a leading role in providing the scientific expertise to help realize DOE's ambitious goals.


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    Harvesting Energy from Light using Bio-inspired Artificial Cells

    Harvesting Energy from Light using Bio-inspired Artificial Cells

    Scientists designed and connected two different artificial cells to each other to produce molecules called ATP (adenosine triphosphate).

    Engineering Living Scaffolds for Building Materials

    Engineering Living Scaffolds for Building Materials

    Bone and mollusk shells are composite systems that combine living cells and inorganic components. This allows them to regenerate and change structure while also being very strong and durable. Borrowing from this amazing complexity, researchers have been exploring a new class of materials called engineered living materials (ELMs).

    Excavating Quantum Information Buried in Noise

    Excavating Quantum Information Buried in Noise

    Researchers developed two new methods to assess and remove error in how scientists measure quantum systems. By reducing quantum "noise" - uncertainty inherent to quantum processes - these new methods improve accuracy and precision.

    How Electrons Move in a Catastrophe

    How Electrons Move in a Catastrophe

    Lanthanum strontium manganite (LSMO) is a widely applicable material, from magnetic tunnel junctions to solid oxide fuel cells. However, when it gets thin, its behavior changes for the worse. The reason why was not known. Now, using two theoretical methods, a team determined what happens.

    When Ions and Molecules Cluster

    When Ions and Molecules Cluster

    How an ion behaves when isolated within an analytical instrument can differ from how it behaves in the environment. Now, Xue-Bin Wang at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory devised a way to bring ions and molecules together in clusters to better discover their properties and predict their behavior.

    Tune in to Tetrahedral Superstructures

    Tune in to Tetrahedral Superstructures

    Shape affects how the particles fit together and, in turn, the resulting material. For the first time, a team observed the self-assembly of nanoparticles with tetrahedral shapes.

    Tracing Interstellar Dust Back to the Solar System's Formation

    Tracing Interstellar Dust Back to the Solar System's Formation

    This study is the first to confirm dust particles pre-dating the formation of our solar system. Further study of these materials will enable a deeper understanding of the processes that formed and have since altered them.

    Investigating Materials that Can Go the Distance in Fusion Reactors

    Investigating Materials that Can Go the Distance in Fusion Reactors

    Future fusion reactors will require materials that can withstand extreme operating conditions, including being bombarded by high-energy neutrons at high temperatures. Scientists recently irradiated titanium diboride (TiB2) in the High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR) to better understand the effects of fusion neutrons on performance.

    Better 3-D Imaging of Tumors in the Breast with Less Radiation

    Better 3-D Imaging of Tumors in the Breast with Less Radiation

    In breast cancer screening, an imaging technique based on nuclear medicine is currently being used as a successful secondary screening tool alongside mammography to improve the accuracy of the diagnosis. Now, a team is hoping to improve this imaging technique.

    Microbes are Metabolic Specialists

    Microbes are Metabolic Specialists

    Scientists can use genetic information to measure if microbes in the environment can perform specific ecological roles. Researchers recently analyzed the genomes of over 6,000 microbial species.


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