UNLV has received a $3 million federal grant for research and development of technologies for economic and environmentally sound refinement of spent nuclear fuel. The funding was provided in the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act, in conjunction with and a part of $34 million provided to the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology (DOE-NE) to conduct Advanced Accelerator Applications (AAA) research.
The transmutation process involves using a particle accelerator to shoot protons into a "target" material that produces a large pulse of neutrons. These neutrons are capable of reacting with high-level nuclear waste, thereby greatly reducing the amount of highly radioactive material and at the same time producing energy that could be used to generate electricity and producing useful radioisotopes for medical and industrial applications.
The DOE-NE's $34 million Advanced Accelerator Application (AAA) program to develop transmutation technology got under way at the Los Alamos National Laboratory earlier this year. Argonne National Laboratory is also involved in leading the research. A portion of the project - the University Participation Program - is centered at UNLV and has received $3 million in federal funding to establish the program that began in March. The University of Michigan, University of California at Berkeley, and University of Texas are also involved in basic and applied scientific research in support of the national project.
"We are very pleased to play a significant role in research that may lead to a relatively safe way to dispose of the nation's high-level nuclear waste," UNLV President Carol C. Harter said. "We are grateful for our long-standing, cooperative relationship with DOE-NE and see the AAA Program as yet another demonstration of this positive partnership," Harter added.
The AAA Program has a strong interest in supporting student and faculty research, developing new scientists and engineers interested in advanced energy technologies, and applying the energy and creativity of the university community to spent fuel transmutation and recycling research.
UNLV has established an academic research program dedicated to the emerging transmutation technology as part of the national AAA program. Called the UNLV AAA University Participation Program, its primary goal is to have UNLV master's- and doctoral-degree students perform research on the cutting-edge of science and engineering as an integrated part of the national program. The College of Engineering, College of Sciences, and Harry Reid Center for Environmental Studies are actively involved in the project. The program will not bring high-level radioactive material to the UNLV campus.
"A long-term goal of the university program is to develop research capabilities and attract top-quality students and faculty to work on some of the nation's most pressing technological and environmental problems," according to Dr. Ray Alden, UNLV provost. "Because the initial grant is renewable for the potential 10-year lifetime of the project, it could bring UNLV some $30 million in research funding," Alden said.