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 interacts with soil.
Clemson Professor of Environmental Engineering Dr. Brian Powell says the research could help the Department of Energy more accurately estimate the risk posed by long term nuclear waste disposal. Powell says his research team will be examining the soils of the Savannah River Site and the Hanford Site on the Columbia River in Washington state.
Powell says the results of the research will be an important asset for public officials and the scientific community as they decide on energy options for the future. Powell says plutonium contamination in soils can be transported in groundwater away from waste disposal sites and possibly contaminate drinking water supplies for populated areas.
Powell says the how much plutonium sticks to soil particles will be the key to safety disposal of the material. Powell says rainwater may carry plutonium through the ground–as it moves it sticks to the ground and is removed from the water. Powell says his charge is 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.
Powell says the research will not only examine the mineral composition of the soils, but also how much clay exists in the soils’ composition. Powell says the research has broad implications for nuclear cleanup efforts.