U of I program training next generation of researchers to work on radioactive waste

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG TV9) -- One in three.

One of the grad students in the U of I's radiochemistry program works on an experiment involving radioactive materials.

That’s the number of people in the U.S. who live within 50 miles of highly radioactive nuclear waste.

And with the Duane Arnold Energy Center (DAEC) in Palo, Iowa’s only nuclear power plant, that one in three number applies to a good portion of eastern Iowa. The used nuclear fuel stored onsite at 61 nuclear power plants in the U.S., including the DAEC, will remain radioactive for thousands of years.

It’s those kind of statistics that prompted the University of Iowa to launch a research program in radiochemistry to train the next generation of scientists who will tackle the problem of storing and controlling radioactive waste from power plants.

Tori Forbes, an associate professor of chemistry and leader of the U of I nuclear group, says there are just a handful of similar programs studying the chemical properties of radioactive materials at other universities around the country.

The U of I’s program is the newest and it’s getting some attention and lots of financial support from groups like the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Department of Energy.

“Out of sight, out of mind. People don’t realize that right now we don’t have a great solution to the problem of waste. We’re sort of kicking it down the road for our children to deal with,” Forbes said.

Forbes says some of the ideas behind the program at the U of I is to get engineering, chemistry and other students interested in working on ways to keep onsite nuclear waste storage safer and prevent harm to humans and the environment.

With many scientists in the nuclear power industry retiring, some of the grad students and undergrads in the program now will become part of the new generation of researchers working on long term solutions.

The federal government has never designated a permanent storage site for nuclear waste so, for now, it’s stored temporarily at each of 61 nuclear plants in the U.S.

At the Duane Arnold Energy Center in Palo, a spokesperson would not say how much radioactive waste is in storage. But all the spent fuel rods used since the plant began operating in the mid-1970s are still there.

Some fuel bundles are stored in tanks of water until cooled. After that, they’re moved to above ground storage casks.

Madeline Basile, a 4th year grad student in the radiochemistry program, says she’s excited about the prospects because the need for people willing to work on radioactive waste issues is so great.

“They need us. They need a new group to cultivate this knowledge and we have to hustle to get this work done because we don’t have a choice. What are we going to do with it (radioactive waste)?” she asked.

As one of the newest such programs, the U of I group has drawn significant financial support with more than $3-million dollars in grants in recent years. That’s for a program that, right now, has just five full time grad student researchers and four part time.

And with the Duane Arnold Energy Center (DAEC) in Palo, Iowa’s only nuclear power plant, that one in three number applies to a good portion of eastern Iowa. The used nuclear fuel stored onsite at 61 nuclear power plants in the U.S., including the DAEC, will remain radioactive for thousands of years.

It’s those kind of statistics that prompted the University of Iowa to launch a research program in radiochemistry to train the next generation of scientists who will tackle the problem of storing and controlling radioactive waste from power plants.

Tori Forbes, an associate professor of chemistry and leader of the U of I nuclear group, says there are just a handful of similar programs studying the chemical properties of radioactive materials at other universities around the country.

The U of I’s program is the newest and it’s getting some attention and lots of financial support from groups like the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Department of Energy.

“Out of sight, out of mind. People don’t realize that right now we don’t have a great solution to the problem of waste. We’re sort of kicking it down the road for our children to deal with,” Forbes said.

Forbes says some of the ideas behind the program at the U of I is to get engineering, chemistry and other students interested in working on ways to keep onsite nuclear waste storage safer and prevent harm to humans and the environment.

With many scientists in the nuclear power industry retiring, some of the grad students and undergrads in the program now will become part of the new generation of researchers working on long term solutions.

The federal government has never designated a permanent storage site for nuclear waste so, for now, it’s stored temporarily at each of 61 nuclear plants in the U.S.

At the Duane Arnold Energy Center in Palo, a spokesperson would not say how much radioactive waste is in storage. But all the spent fuel rods used since the plant began operating in the mid-1970s are still there.

Some fuel bundles are stored in tanks of water until cooled. After that, they’re moved to above ground storage casks.

Madeline Basile, a 4th year grad student in the radiochemistry program, says she’s excited about the prospects because the need for people willing to work on radioactive waste issues is so great.

“They need us. They need a new group to cultivate this knowledge and we have to hustle to get this work done because we don’t have a choice. What are we going to do with it (radioactive waste)?” she asked.

As one of the newest such programs, the U of I group has drawn significant financial support with more than $3-million dollars in grants in recent years. That’s for a program that, right now, has just five full time grad student researchers and four part time.