A LONG-TERM PARTNERSHIP
The Savannah River National Laboratory is a multiprogram national laboratory for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management. Located at the Savannah River Site near Jackson, S.C., the laboratory works to provide cost-effective solutions for the nation’s environmental, nuclear security, energy and manufacturing challenges.
SRNL has partnered with Clemson scientists for three decades or more and offered numerous internships to Clemson graduate students studying environmental sciences.
“Part of our program at SRNL is to work with universities both for extending our technical capabilities and for workforce development. We went to Clemson because they had expertise in this area,” Kaplan says.
That partnership was solidified further last year when Powell was awarded a dual appointment with Clemson and SRNL.
Powell’s research has received more than $7 million since 2014 from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). The project involves a multidisciplinary team of around 85 scientists with expertise in radiochemistry, radiation detection and measurement, nuclear engineering, environmental engineering, civil engineering, hydrology, geology, materials science, physics, plant physiology, soil science, and quantitative modeling.
The long-term objective of the EPSCoR project is to support closure of DOE legacy weapons production sites, disposal of radioisotope-bearing wastes and disposal of spent nuclear fuel from commercial energy production.
Eighteen master’s students and six Ph.D. students have graduated as a result of the work conducted thus far on the project, and an additional six Ph.D. students will graduate before the end of the project in 2020. Thirteen postdoctoral researchers have also participated in the project since 2014. Many of these researchers have continued their careers at DOE laboratories, such as Los Alamos National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the National Energy Technology Laboratory. Others have joined the private sector or other universities.
Scientists working on EPSCoR have authored 35 articles published in peer-reviewed journals and pioneered new ways of using technology developed for medical imaging to study the movement of radionuclides through soil.
“One of the big questions we are trying to answer is how well do we understand the way water moves through soil and how does that movement affect the chemistry of radioisotopes and how they move through the soil?” Powell says. “We haven’t connected that yet. Water moving through soil sounds simple, but it is incredibly complex, possibly unpredictable under some circumstances.
“We are really getting beyond scratching the surface of these ideas. We are putting together some pretty sophisticated models to simulate the lysimeter data quite well. But there is a lot more work to go.”