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Washington State University
CAS Connect October 2016

New institute to promote nuclear science research, collaboration

The new WSU Institute for Nuclear Science and Technology (INST) will bring together diverse scientists and researchers to address global challenges in security, human health, energy, and environmental quality.

Aurora Clark
Aurora Clark

“At a national level, one of the major research problems in nuclear science and technology is that experts working on one specific type of problem often are isolated from colleagues working in other areas,” said Aurora Clark, professor of chemistry and director of the institute. “WSU is unique in that we already have more than 20 faculty members on campus specializing in a range of nuclear science specialties. The framework of the institute provides an opportunity to pool our expertise and resources to tackle big problems facing industry and the country in general.”

Approved by the WSU Board of Regents at its regular meeting on Friday, Sept. 16, INST includes faculty from three colleges and will enable creative solutions to challenges in radioecology, nuclear energy, nuclear medicine, and nuclear policy.

One example of how the institute’s researchers are working together is devising quick and safe ways to recertify nuclear reactors and extend their operating life.

The 99 nuclear power reactors in the United States produce 20 percent of the country’s electricity. Shutting the reactors down for inspection could lead to energy shortages, and it is impossible to physically examine certain parts in each reactor.

To address this challenge, INST computer modeling experts are collaborating with INST material scientists to make the recertification process both safer and faster.

Another area that will benefit from the faculty’s multidisciplinary expertise is the cleanup of radioactive contamination at Hanford and other sites contaminated by decades of nuclear weapons production.

Several INST faculty, including Aurora Clark and Sue Clark, WSU Regents professor in chemistry and Battelle fellow at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, are recipients of a four-year, multi-million-dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to study the chemical reactions that cause nuclear waste to change over time. Their work will aid in the design of new collection, processing, and storage methods for nuclear waste.

Training the next generation of nuclear scientists

In addition to conducting cutting-edge research, INST will also take a leading role in training new scientists in the field of nuclear science and technology.

Interdisciplinary collaboration between the three colleges will provide WSU graduate students with the opportunity to obtain research experience working on equipment they previously may not have had access to. Additionally, a new radiochemistry training program supported by a $3 million DOE grant will enable graduate students to work alongside experts at places like the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Idaho National Laboratory, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Nathalie Wall

“Researchers and staff trained in America’s nuclear era in the late twentieth century are retiring in large numbers, and the current supply of qualified employees will not be able to keep up with demand,” said Nathalie Wall, associate professor of chemistry and director of the WSU Radiochemistry Traineeship Program. “Through INST, our students are accessing a variety of research experiences and are enhancing their training to become proficient in nuclear science and technology,” Wall said.

“Because of the technical expertise they gain at WSU, each year at least one student working with our faculty goes on to pursue a policy fellowship or internship with organizations like the National Nuclear Security Administration,” Clark said. “Now that we are a formal unit, INST will provide new opportunities in the context of training a well-educated work force that can influence policy at the government level and help us as a nation make more informed decisions in the future.”