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WSU, national laboratory to join forces on nuclear research

April 3, 2018 Updated Tue., April 3, 2018 at 9:19 p.m.

Students at Washington State University will take part in research on nuclear science and technology, power grids and utilizing bioproduct waste in a partnership between WSU and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory announced Tuesday.

PNNL Director Steven Ashby said in a news release that the programs will provide learning opportunities for students and help the two institutions make use of complementary resources and expertise.

WSU President Kirk Schulz said the partnership will allow the university to improve its science, technology, engineering and math departments, and provide further benefits on a local and national level.

“(T)his partnership will lead to new discoveries, enhance quality of life and bolster the regional and state economy,” he said.

WSU and PNNL will work on technologies for nuclear cleanup and tracking, creating a better power grid and repurposing bioproducts from industries such as agriculture and forestry.

Research in nuclear forensics has international applications, said Aurora Clark, co-director for WSU’s Nuclear Sciences and Technology Institute.

Government needs to be able to track where illicit nuclear material came from in order to respond with appropriate policy.

“Since the end of the Cold War, there’s been a real issue associated with tracking nuclear materials as they move across country lines,” she said. “Nuclear forensics plays an incredibly important role in being able to track (where it came from).”

Other areas of nuclear research will include waste management and developing new nuclear energy technologies, she said.

The program also provides learning opportunities for doctoral students studying nuclear science and technology, and prepares them for future careers, Clark said. There is high demand in the field because many experts will retire in the next several years.

There are roughly 20 to 25 doctoral students in fields at WSU who will participate in the nuclear program. However, it also encompasses some non-STEM majors through work in policymaking.

“This partnership allows students who are interested in policy to become educated in the science and technology,” she said. “We owe it to create informed citizenry that can then go and help make important policy decisions.”

Other research areas like virtual simulations can help create a stronger power grid, said Susan Bauer, PNNL public information officer. And finding new commercial uses for biomass outside of fuels such as ethanol can help reduce waste and create revenue.

“The vision is to combine these resources that we have between the two institutions and work together solving some of these really big issues that we have,” she said.

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