The Catholic University of America

Dec. 16, 2015

CUA Lab Awarded $5.7 Million for Nuclear Waste Management Research

The Vitreous State Laboratory (VSL) at The Catholic University of America accomplished an impressive feat this semester when, over the course of three months, it was named the recipient of 14 awards from five different sponsors, totaling $5.7 million.

Established in 1968 and housed in Hannan Hall, VSL is a research and development facility focused on the study of glass and its many uses. Since the late 1970s, much of VSL’s work has centered on nuclear waste management through a process called vitrification, in which radioactive waste is transformed into glass using a 2,000-degree Fahrenheit melter. Though the resulting glass remains radioactive, it is unable to leach into the surrounding environment.

According to VSL director and physics professor Ian Pegg, who is also the Principal Investigator on the new awards, the funds will support nuclear waste management projects for the U.S. Department of Energy and their various contractors.

Several of the projects pertain to a multibillion dollar nuclear waste vitrification plant that is currently under construction in Hanford, Wash. A former Manhattan Project site, Hanford is now home to 177 underground tanks of nuclear waste — each holding as much as a million gallons of radioactive liquid and sludge. With the new funding, VSL will take on projects to make the plant’s operations cleaner, more economical, and safer for the environment.

VSL will also work with another vitrification plant currently operating in Savannah River, S.C. The site has 45 tanks of nuclear waste, which each take over a year to treat. As the plant prepares to begin treatment on a new tank, VSL’s research will confirm the best formula for safely vitrifying the contained waste. Additional projects relate to improving safety and efficiency of other processes at the Savannah River site.

Though VSL typically receives between $7 and $14 million each year in funding, Pegg said it is unusual to receive so many awards this early in the government’s fiscal year, which begins in October.

Receiving the funding early was a “really good start to the year,” Pegg said. “To have so much of this funding in hand already is especially helpful for our preparations and planning of the facilities and resources that we need, which takes the pressure off a little bit.”

In addition to the nuclear waste management projects for the Department of Energy, VSL also works with commercial companies to develop environmentally friendly concrete and efficient waste-heat recovery processes. The lab, which employs about 70 people, also has ongoing projects with nuclear programs in Japan and the United Kingdom.

“We enjoy being able to contribute to solving environmental issues that are so important to all of us and to good stewardship of the planet,” said Pegg. “These problems were created in times of crisis going back to the Second World War. It’s way past time to deal with them and set things right again.”




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