Environment News Service

AmeriScan: September 27, 2001


LOS ALAMOS, New Mexico, September 27, 2001 (ENS) -- A new research program for the Department of Energy's (DOE) Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) will study the chemistry of materials that can affect underground radioactive waste storage sites.

The program is a cooperative effort of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) Carlsbad Operations and the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center of New Mexico State University to develop new research and laboratory capabilities to support WIPP's scientific needs.

WIPP, located 26 miles east of Carlsbad, New Mexico, became the nation's first operating underground repository for permanent disposal of weapons related radioactive waste on March 26, 1999.

"This project dovetails with DOE's intent to conduct more of its efforts in support of WIPP right here in Carlsbad, and make Carlsbad one of the few state of the art centers for repository science in the world," said Roger Nelson, chief scientist for the DOE Carlsbad field office.

The new research program focuses on actinide chemistry, or the chemical behavior and properties of those elements that are heavier than radium. Actinide chemistry is important to understanding the long term performance of the WIPP repository.

These radioactive exotic elements attempt to become more stable by throwing off particles and energy from their overcrowded nuclei. This actinide chemistry activity can be applied to weapons and energy production but it increases the challenge of handling these elements.

The new laboratory collaboration seeks to understand the behavior of these elements to a degree never before achieved. The research program includes repository science investigations to support WIPP, reduce costs and ensure its safe and economical use far into the future.

The team will use the mobile Contaminant Analysis Automation laboratory, which was developed by the DOE as a tool that can be sent to contaminated sites for quick analyses of hazardous materials. The automated lab lowers costs and reduces the time required to analyze environmental samples.

The lab will be used to investigate the behavior of plutonium under many possible underground conditions, as well as developing new methods to package and treat radioactive materials to make them easier to handle.

Environment News Service (ENS) 2001. All Rights Reserved.