The Catholic University of America

April 2, 2009

CUA's Vitreous State Laboratory Receives $1.14 Million to Turn Nuclear Waste Into Glass

Catholic University's Vitreous State Laboratory (VSL) has received a $1,145,000 contract to help the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of River Protection treat and safely store nuclear waste created as a byproduct of 40 years of nuclear bomb production.

VSL has been contracted to spend the next 10 months developing and testing optimized mixes of glassmaking ingredients to turn a particular type of aluminum-rich nuclear waste into glass when heated in a 350-ton melter. VSL Director and CUA Professor of Physics Ian Pegg is the project's principal investigator.

The nuclear waste in question is located at the Hanford Site in eastern Washington state, where the federal government produced nuclear materials for its atomic arsenal from the 1940s to the late 1980s - a process which also created 53 million gallons of dangerous radioactive waste that is presently stored in 177 aging underground tanks there.

VSL is playing a key scientific role in developing and optimizing the technology required to turn that waste into solid glass that can be stored in specially prepared repositories, thereby preventing it from leaking into the nearby Columbia River or into the local water table for centuries to come. The process of turning nuclear waste into glass is called vitrification.

The laboratory maintains its own 30-ton, 2,000-degree-Fahrenheit glass melter on Catholic University's campus. In that melter and in many smaller melters, the lab's scientists discover how to most effectively and economically convert wastes of complex and widely varying compositions into stable glass. For this on-campus research, the scientists use mostly non-radioactive test materials carefully formulated to have the same chemical compositions as the wastes stored at Hanford.

VSL is performing this research as a subcontractor for EnergySolutions, a Salt Lake City-based nuclear services company. EnergySolutions regularly partners with the CUA laboratory to serve the U.S. Department of Energy and other nuclear clients around the world.

As the nation's leading research and development laboratory for the process of turning nuclear waste into glass, VSL has been a major provider of R&D for the Department of Energy's programs for vitrification of nuclear waste. For this and other projects, the CUA laboratory has received more than $70 million in research grants and contracts over the past 10 years.

MEDIA: For more information, contact Katie Lee or Mary McCarthy in Catholic University's Office of Public Affairs at 202-319-5600.