Student researcher develops containment strategy for radioactive waste
Following the 2011 tsunami that pummeled the coast of northeastern Japan, the critically damaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant released literal tons of wastewater and debris contaminated by radionuclides into the surrounding area and watershed. Radionuclides, or atoms with excess nuclear energy, are capable of being dispersed over great distances and can cause a host of debilitating maladies. Even more alarming is the fact that materials contaminated by radionuclides remain dangerous long after the initial contamination and require careful handling and containment. While the clean-up process has been well-underway for years, true resolution of this disaster will remain unobtainable in the near future.
Hoping to mitigate the effects of radionuclides and to aid in similar clean-up processes, William Jolin, an environmental engineering Ph.D. student at the University of Connecticut, spent his summer conducting research at the Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, Illinois. Jolin was a participant in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) HS-STEM Summer Internship Program. This program provides undergraduate and graduate students majoring in homeland security related science, technology, engineering and mathematics (HS-STEM) disciplines the opportunity to conduct research in a DHS area at federal research facilities across the U.S.
Jolin’s research focused on developing containment devices for radionuclides dissolved in various solvents.
“I performed research to help in the efforts of a wide-scale nuclear decontamination plan. The purpose of my research was to design, test, and model a retention barrel for self-help mitigation of dissolved radionuclides,” Jolin said.
Over the course of the summer, Jolin designed experiments, performed these experiments, and analyzed data. He had the opportunity to learn about research conducted by established investigators and frequently attended seminars showcasing various projects sponsored by Argonne National Laboratory. Having little experience in working with radionuclides before, the support made available to Jolin from Argonne researchers was vital.
“I did not know a lot about radiation and radionuclides before my participation in the program. I got a crash course when I got on site; at least the research involved a lot of things I’ve looked at with pharmaceuticals. The experience I gained from working at Argonne is invaluable. I hope the possibility arises for me to work there again. I also hope to publish the work I did in a peer-reviewed journal,” Jolin said.
Fortunately, the research Jolin conducted over the course of the summer yielded impressive results, and he was able to confirm a viable containment method for radionuclide storage and disposal. By combining sand with alumino-silicate clay minerals, Jolin was able to produce a valid solid for mitigation of radionuclides that had been removed from affected surfaces.
Following his internship, Jolin plans to complete his doctoral requirements, and then hopes to enter the workforce as a consultant or a postdoc at a research institution or national laboratory. No matter where the professional world takes Jolin, he acknowledges his internship as a worthy experience both professionally and personally.
When asked to summarize his experience, Jolin said, “It was a very beneficial experience to me both professionally and culturally. I was able to visit the city of Chicago and even go to a Blackhawks and Cubs game. The research has opened doors for my future into places and opportunities that previously I was not aware existed.”
The DHS HS-STEM Summer Internship Program is funded by DHS and administered through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE). ORISE is managed for DOE by ORAU.