CLEMSON, S.C. Environmental scientists at Clemson University have received a three-year, $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to study how plutonium, a byproduct of used nuclear fuel, interacts with soil.
The research has implications for nuclear cleanup efforts and could help the Department of Energy more accurately estimate the risk posed by long-term nuclear waste disposal.
"Plutonium contamination in soils can be transported in groundwater away from the site and possibly contaminate drinking water supplies for populated areas," said Brian Powell, an assistant professor of environmental engineering and Earth science and principal investigator on the project.
"The way to predict how much and how fast plutonium moves through the groundwater is to look at the dominant geochemical processes that control plutonium's behavior in the subsurface.
"In this project, we're trying to gain a better understanding of what is happening between plutonium and the soil underground," Powell said. "Rainwater may carry plutonium through the ground; as it moves, it sticks to the soil and is removed from the water. How much sticks is what we're trying to find out."
Powell will examine how plutonium interacts with the soil by calculating the amount of energy used in that process. He'll use this information to develop mathematical models that will allow scientists to better predict how fast plutonium will move underground and be transported away from a waste disposal site.
"Sorption of plutonium to soil particles is the primary means of minimizing transport of plutonium into the environment," Powell said. "Accurate prediction is extremely important for containment and remediation, but our inability to understand the fundamental controls of plutonium mobility limits the effectiveness of current models to predict where it will go and how fast it will go underground."
Powell will use both experimental and
|Contact: Brian A. Powell|