Professor Awarded $1.4 Million for Nuclear Fuel Research

Stephen Mezyk, professor in Chemistry and Biochemistry at Cal State Long Beach (CSULB), has received a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) grant to examine the effects of radiation on nuclear reprocessing systems in the Fuel Cycle Research and Development area. The four-year, $1.4 million award enlists Mezyk as the principal investigator who will lead the study to increase understanding of the chemistry of molecules called ligands that are used to selectively remove metals from nuclear waste. 

Examining the role and chemistry of these ligands could improve the safety of stored nuclear waste by reducing the levels of radioactivity and toxicity. 

CSULB was the only non-Ph.D.-granting institution among 23 leading universities receiving Nuclear Energy University Program (NEUP) 2010 funding for nuclear education and technologies. Mezyk said the study is of significant importance because current reprocessing systems were largely developed in the 1960s—when the first nuclear power plants began operating. However, most of these schemes emphasized the engineering requirements of reprocessing rather than their chemistry. 

“To optimize this part of the process, we started looking at the chemistry of these ligands, and especially the radiation chemistry that occurs. We’ve begun examining how radiation, especially alpha radiation, damages the ligands both directly and indirectly; and how we can better design them to become more resistant,” Mezyk said. “This project will ultimately reduce the radioactivity and toxicity of stored nuclear waste.” 

Mezyk’s exemplary research in the chemistry of free radicals has earned him international recognition in both nuclear and environmental science. His student research group, RadKEM, is recognized for its applications of free radical chemistry in the removal of chemical contaminants from waters and in its understanding of the radical chemistry involved in cancer. 

RadKEM has worked with the National Energy Laboratory at Notre Dame and the Orange County Water District using radiation to study the breakdown of such contaminants as antibiotics and hormones during the remediation of water. The Department of Energy grant will take RadKEM in a new direction, in collaboration with Bruce Mincher of the DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory and Mikael Nilsson, assistant professor at the University of California, Irvine. 

The multi-year research project will be completed at the national Radiation Laboratory at Notre Dame, Ind.; at UC Irvine; in Chalmers, Sweden; and potentially in Marcoule, France. It will also engage several European researchers. 

Winter 2011 Issue

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