Photo courtesy of Liane Tellier

Nuclear waste became somewhat easier to control this past year thanks to the work of Daniel Griffin, a chemical and biomolecular engineering PhD. student at Tech. For the technique described in his paper “Controlled Crystallization of Salts from Nuclear Waste Solutions,” Griffin received the Innovations in Fuel Cycle Research award, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. For having won the award, Griffin will travel to the American Nuclear Society Winter Meeting in Washington, D.C. to present his findings.

The project will aid in mitigating one of the major drawbacks of nuclear power: storing the hazardous waste. As Griffin explained, finding solutions to this problem gives optimism for the future of nuclear energy, which he described as having “the potential to provide energy without the same sort of environmental impact that we might see with some of the more traditional energy production methods.” He pointed out that perhaps the largest political roadblock to a more widespread acceptance of nuclear power is the public’s discomfort over the leftover waste material. He explained that this need helped pushed him forward, saying “it’s motivating, you feel good if you can come up with a technique to help address this problem.” Much of the current problem comes from the necessity of dealing with legacy nuclear waste, particularly at the Hanford site in Washington, which is in containers which are no longer suitable for storage.

Griffin’s work deals with the crystallization of salts in complex solutions, such as those that might be a by-product of nuclear power. Once these salts have been crystallized, they can be removed from solution, which makes it easier for the solution to undergo a process known as vitrification, which transforms it into glass. The vitrified waste is then rendered immobile, preventing any potential holes in a container leading to dangerous leaks.

He explained that the major innovation being introduced is the use of feedback informed by monitoring the system. By constantly measuring the conditions of the system and modifying the environment accordingly, he is able to produce from the solution crystals of much higher volume. Such crystals are easier to remove than smaller ones, making the process of removing salts which hinder the process of vitrification simpler. The need for measurements to be taken during the crystallization process comes from