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Story tips from the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, July 2008

To arrange for an interview with a researcher, please contact the Communications and External Relations staff member identified at the end of each tip. For more information on ORNL and its research and development activities, please refer to one of our Media Contacts. If you have a general media-related question or comment, you can send it to

ENERGY -- Spent fuel pellets . . .

Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers have made the first mixed-oxide pellets from recycled spent nuclear fuel in a process that doesn't produce a separate plutonium stream. The work is the result of the Coupled End-to-End Demonstration Project for the Department of Energy's Global Nuclear Energy Partnership. Program Manager Jeff Binder of the Nuclear Science and Technology Division said conventional reprocessing methods pull plutonium separately from the spent-fuel mix of actinides (uranium, neptunium and plutonium) and are a proliferation concern. Binder said the ORNL technique, called modified direct denitration, converts a uranium-neptunium-plutonium nitric acid solution to a solid-oxide form. Traditionally, actinides taken out of a nitric acid solution are in a glassy structure that has to be processed with steps such as milling and grinding. The solid-oxide powder from the modified direct denitration process can go right to pellet form. The process is the first separation of spent nuclear fuel where plutonium isn't pulled out by itself and the product material is taken directly to making a pellet. The work is supported by the Department of Energy's Office of Nuclear Energy. [Contact: Bill Cabage, (865) 574-4399;]

MATERIALS -- Simplifying complexity . . .

Tiny changes at the nanometer scale can have a colossal effect on the properties of a material, and for the first time researchers may have a method to see and even predict those changes. For example, by applying a magnetic field to certain single-crystal materials, researchers measure an enormous seemingly disproportionate change in the magnetoresistance. "That doesn't sound very interesting until you remember that your computer hard drive relies on giant magnetoresistance," said Zac Ward, lead author of a paper published in Physical Review Letters and a member of the Materials Science and Technology Division. By applying the concept of complexity to the study of materials at the nanoscale, scientists hope to be able to see the interrelations between base components and tune the materials to create previously unseen properties. "If we are able to unravel exactly how everything at the atomic level interacts we should be able to better engineer devices from materials that are based on complexity," Ward said. Co-authors are Jian Shen, Shuhua Liang, Kenji Fuchigami, Lifeng Yin, Elbio Dagotto and Ward Plummer. The research was funded by the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226;]

PREPAREDNESS -- Battling terrorists . . .

People living in small towns and big cities alike will be a lot safer from the risk of improvised explosive devices because of an ongoing effort being coordinated by Oak Ridge National Laboratory for the Department of Homeland Security. While there are numerous partners and facets of the project, the goal is to integrate existing commercial and government software to maximize the ability to respond to a threat and to prevent bombings in the first place. When completed, the DHS Office for Bombing Prevention will have a portable procedure, dubbed TRIPwire Field Tool, to conduct bomb squad assessments, perform site assistance visits and develop multi-jurisdictional security plans for incident response. The tool uses a geospatial framework to show physical relationships between the planning site, security partners, potential event and response. [Contact: Ron Walli, (865) 576-0226;]

MATERIALS -- Under the microscope . . .

A new generation of electron microscope at Oak Ridge National Laboratory is helping scientists examine materials for fuel-efficient cars, superconductors, solar cells and other applications. The lab's latest instrument, the Hitachi HF-3300 transmission electron microscope, is the first of its kind in the nation and can determine the microstructure and chemical makeup of materials down to the atomic level. "These microscopes have become a vital new testing ground, accelerating advanced materials research," said Jane Howe of ORNL's Materials Analysis User Center. "By looking at structure on an atomic level, we can predict whether a material has the required properties to perform well in tomorrow's high-demand applications." Funding for the microscope was provided by the Department of Energy's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability programs, and DOE's Office of Basic Energy Sciences. The instrument is shared by the High Temperature Materials Laboratory, the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences, and the Shared Research Equipment user programs at ORNL. [Contact: Sarah Wright, (865) 574-6631;]


Contact: Ron Walli
DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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