DOE awards funding to facilitate clean-up
By STEPHEN FUZESI
hen you have decades-old tanks filled with radioactive
ooze and need to pump it out quickly, who you gonna call?
Scientists at Princeton and 23 other universities around the
nation, if you’re the U.S. Department of Energy.
The DOE recently announced more than $30 million in grants to
research ways of cleaning up environmental hazards left over from
years of nuclear weapons production. Some date back to the early
days of the Cold War.
At the University, Dan Dabbs, a chemical engineering research
staff member, is receiving $70,000 per year for the next three years
to investigate how to keep aluminum dissolved in solution so that
when the “witch’s brew” of radioactive waste is pumped out of tanks
at contaminated sites, solid metal does not clog the
‘Basic part of the equation’
Jeff Sherwood ’78, an Energy Department spokesman, said
the research conducted at the University could prove to be
important, even though it’s only a small piece of the overall
“We have tanks bubbling with millions of gallons of high-level
waste,” Sherwood said. “It’s not like you can just cut them up and
get at them” if a block forms during pumping.
“We’re looking at a very basic part of the equation,” said Dabbs,
who is collaborating in the research with chemical engineering
professor Ilhan Aksay, as well as scientists at the Energy
Department’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington and
Savannah River Technology Center in South Carolina.
Their particular project costs $1.1 million, with the bulk of the
funding going to the two laboratories. The labs are located near
sites where the nuclear waste is currently being stored and where
fears of groundwater contamination and other environmental dangers
“They’re facing a very serious clean-up issue at this point,”
Cold War legacy
The DOE estimates that the final cost of the clean-up
will be $147 billion between 1997 and 2070. A major goal of that
initiative, Dabbs said, is to convert the mostly liquid waste to
glass or ceramics, which are easier to transport and less
At a site in Hanford, Wash., near the Pacific Northwest
Laboratory, there are about 180 tanks that need to be pumped out,
He added that some of them are from the original Manhattan
Project, which resulted in the first atomic bomb.
The exact contents of the tanks are unknown. Additionally,
scientists are unsure of the stability of the tank walls. These two
factors make the research even more urgent, Sherwood said.
In announcing the grants, Undersecretary of Energy Ernest Moniz
stressed the difficulty presented by sites like Hanford.
“The environmental contamination from Cold War nuclear weapons
production requires scientific breakthroughs to make its clean-up
feasible and cost-effective,” Moniz said in a statement released