Research & Applications

UN partners expand use of nuclear technology to combat disease

February 25, 2021, 12:23PMNuclear News

The IAEA headquarters.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have worked together to address the global challenges of food insecurity, climate change, animal/zoonotic diseases, and most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic over 57 years of partnership. On February 23, the directors general of both organizations signed a Revised Arrangement committing to upgrade their collaboration and increase the scope of their work.

Researchers report fastest purification of astatine-211 needed for targeted cancer therapy

February 24, 2021, 3:00PMANS Nuclear CafeVandana Suresh

Astatine-211 recovery from bismuth metal using a chromatography system. Unlike bismuth, astatine-211 forms chemical bonds with ketones.

In a recent study, Texas A&M University researchers have described a new process to purify astatine-211, a promising radioactive isotope for targeted cancer treatment. Unlike other elaborate purification methods, their technique can extract astatine-211 from bismuth in minutes rather than hours, which can greatly reduce the time between production and delivery to the patient.

“Astatine-211 is currently under evaluation as a cancer therapeutic in clinical trials. But the problem is that the supply chain for this element is very limited because only a few places worldwide can make it,” said Jonathan Burns, research scientist in the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station’s Nuclear Engineering and Science Center. “Texas A&M University is one of a handful of places in the world that can make astatine-211, and we have delineated a rapid astatine-211 separation process that increases the usable quantity of this isotope for research and therapeutic purposes.”

The researchers added that this separation method will bring Texas A&M one step closer to being able to provide astatine-211 for distribution through the Department of Energy’s Isotope Program’s National Isotope Development Center as part of the University Isotope Network.

Details on the chemical reaction to purify astatine-211 are in the journal Separation and Purification Technology.

DOE steps up plutonium production for future space exploration

February 23, 2021, 12:02PMNuclear News

This high-resolution still image is from a video taken by several cameras as NASA’s Perseverance rover touched down on Mars on February 18. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Perseverance rover, which successfully landed on Mars on February 18, is powered in part by the first plutonium produced at Department of Energy laboratories in more than 30 years. The radioactive decay of Pu-238 provides heat to radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) like the one onboard Perseverance and would also be used by the Dynamic Radioisotope Power System, currently under development, which is expected to provide three times the power of RTGs.

Idaho National Laboratory is scaling up the production of Pu-238 to help meet NASA’s production goal of 1.5 kg per year by 2026, the DOE announced on February 17.

NASA’s radioisotope-powered science will persevere on Mars

February 19, 2021, 3:00PMNuclear News

Members of the Perseverance rover team in Mission Control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory react after receiving confirmation of a successful landing. Photo: NASA/Bill Ingalls

NASA mission control and space science fans around the world celebrated the safe landing of the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover on February 18 after a journey of 203 days and 293 million miles. Landing on Mars is difficult—only about 50 percent of all previous Mars landing attempts have succeeded—and a successful landing for Perseverance, the fifth rover that NASA has sent to Mars, was not assured. Confirmation of the successful touchdown was announced at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., at 3:55 p.m. EST.

“This landing is one of those pivotal moments for NASA, the United States, and space exploration globally—when we know we are on the cusp of discovery and sharpening our pencils, so to speak, to rewrite the textbooks,” said acting NASA administrator Steve Jurczyk. “The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission embodies our nation’s spirit of persevering even in the most challenging of situations, inspiring, and advancing science and exploration. The mission itself personifies the human ideal of persevering toward the future and will help us prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.”

Only radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTG) can provide the long-lasting, compact power source that Perseverance needs to carry out its long-term exploratory mission. Perseverance carries an RTG powered by the radioactive decay of plutonium-238 that was supplied by the Department of Energy. ANS president Mary Lou Dunzik-Gougar and CEO and executive director Craig Piercy congratulated NASA after the successful landing, acknowledging the critical contributions of the DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Los Alamos National Laboratory.

A new goal for fusion: 50 MWe for the U.S. grid by 2035–2040

February 19, 2021, 7:00AMNuclear News

Coordinated federal and private industry investments made now could yield an operational fusion pilot plant in the 2035–2040 time frame, according to Bringing Fusion to the U.S. Grid, a consensus study report released February 17 by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM).

Developed at the request of the Department of Energy, the report builds on the work of the 2019 Final Report of the Committee on a Strategic Plan for U.S. Burning Plasma Research, and it identifies key goals, innovations, and investments needed to develop a U.S. fusion pilot plant that can serve as a model for producing electricity at the lowest possible capital cost.

“The U.S. fusion community has been a pioneer of fusion research since its inception and now has the opportunity to bring fusion to the marketplace,” said Richard Hawryluk, associate director for fusion at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and chair of the NASEM Committee on the Key Goals and Innovations Needed for a U.S. Fusion Pilot Plant, which produced the report.

Statement on the successful landing of NASA's Perseverance rover on Mars

February 18, 2021, 3:13PMPress Releases

ANS congratulates NASA for the successful landing of Perseverance on Mars. We look forward to watching from afar its exploration of the Red Planet and search for past microbial life. This is a proud moment as well for nuclear science and technology as a multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator will be powering the rover to mission success.

Task force issues assessment of U.S. nuclear energy R&D funding for 2020s

February 17, 2021, 7:30AMPress Releases

La Grange Park, IL –A task force commissioned by the American Nuclear Society (ANS) issued an assessment of U.S. nuclear energy research and development funding needs for the 2020s. The study is a prospectus for appropriations as Congress and the Biden administration consider ways to support and expand America’s largest carbon-free energy technology, nuclear energy.

INL seeks efficiency boost for radioisotope-powered spacecraft

February 16, 2021, 12:20PMNuclear News

The RTG used to power the Mars Perseverance rover is shown here being placed in a thermal vacuum chamber for testing in a simulated near-space environment. Source: INL

The Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory is celebrating the scheduled landing of the Perseverance rover on the surface of Mars in just two days’ time with a live Q&A today, February 16, from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. EST).

INL and Battelle Energy Alliance, its management and operating contractor, are already looking ahead to the next generation of plutonium-powered spacecraft: the Dynamic Radioisotope Power System (Dynamic RPS). INL announced on February 15 that it is partnering with NASA and the DOE to seek industry engagement to further the design of this new power system.

DOE extends comment period on VTR environmental review

February 16, 2021, 6:58AMNuclear News

The Department of Energy has extended the public review and comment period for the Draft Versatile Test Reactor Environmental Impact Statement (DOE/EIS-0542) through March 2, 2021.

The DOE issued the draft EIS for the Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) for comment on December 21, 2020. The draft document identifies Idaho National Laboratory as the DOE’s preferred location for the VTR, a proposed sodium-cooled fast-neutron-spectrum test reactor that, according to the DOE, will enhance and accelerate research, development, and demonstration of innovative nuclear energy technologies.

In August 2020, Battelle Energy Alliance, which operates INL for the DOE, began contract negotiations with a Bechtel National–led team that includes TerraPower and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy to support the design and construction of the VTR.

Manhattan Project scientist Chien-Shiung Wu honored with Forever Stamp

February 11, 2021, 11:59AMNuclear News

To mark the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, the U.S. Postal Service today issued a commemorative Forever stamp recognizing influential nuclear physicist and professor Chien-Shiung Wu (1912–1997).

A great honor: The stamp was dedicated during a virtual ceremony that can be viewed on the Postal Service Facebook and Twitter pages. USPS official Kristin Seaver was joined for the ceremony by Vincent Yuan, a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory and son of the honoree; Jada Yuan, granddaughter of the honoree; and Brian Greene, professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University. The stamp is available for purchase at Post Office locations nationwide and online.

“I am elated to have my mother honored by USPS on a postage stamp because I believe it goes beyond recognizing her scientific achievements; it also honors the determination and moral qualities that she embodied,” said Vincent Yuan. “It’s even more profound that the recognition comes from America, the country of her naturalization that she loved.”

NIST reactor remains shut down as NRC investigates radiation release

February 11, 2021, 7:02AMNuclear News

Neutron measurement studies at the NIST Center for Neutron Research (NCNR) are on hold for an investigation of a different sort. On February 9, less than a week after elevated radiation levels were detected as the NCNR research reactor was powered up following a scheduled maintenance outage, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission began an inspection at the facility. According to NIST, the reactor will remain shut down until the cause of the release is corrected.

“The first step will be to develop a plan for safely assessing the condition of the reactor so that the root cause of the elevated radiation levels can be investigated,” NIST announced on February 5. “Once that root cause is determined, NIST will identify and then implement all necessary corrective actions.”

Young Members Group focuses on Remote Sensing Lab in ANS webinar

February 10, 2021, 3:00PMANS Nuclear Cafe

The ANS Young Members Group is hosting a free webinar, on Thursday, February 11, featuring the Remote Sensing Laboratory (RSL) as part of its ongoing "Spotlight on National Labs" series. The broadcast runs from noon to 1:30 p.m. (ET) and will cover RSL’s current and future initiatives. Registration is free and open to all.

Details: As part of the Global Security Mission Directorate, RSL is a center for creating and using advanced technologies that provide a broad range of scientific, technological, and operational disciplines with core competencies in emergency response operations and support, remote sensing, and applied science and technologies in support of counterterrorism and radiological and nuclear incident response.

Located at the Nevada National Security Site, RSL is composed of scientists, engineers, technologists, pilots, operations specialists, and administrators, many of whom hold doctorate degrees, providing the lab with a wide diversity of education and experience. Working in sophisticated laboratories with state-of-the-art equipment, these personnel work to advance the technological and operational capabilities of the emergency response teams and other RSL customers and stakeholders.

NASA names ANS member Bhavya Lal as acting chief of staff

February 3, 2021, 12:00PMANS Nuclear Cafe


NASA has appointed ANS member Bhavya Lal as the space agency's acting chief of staff. She served as a member of the Biden Presidential Transition Agency Review Team for the agency, NASA said.

ANS contribution: Lal cofounded and is cochair of the policy track of the ANS annual conference on Nuclear and Emerging Technologies in Space (NETS). She has contributed as an author and guest editor for the upcoming NETS 2020 special issue of ANS technical journal Nuclear Technology.

In addition, she helps organize a seminar series on space history and policy with the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

The role of digital insight in a safer nuclear industry

February 2, 2021, 9:45AMANS Nuclear Cafe

The impact of COVID-19 has placed a sharp focus on not only the importance of keeping key personnel safe but also how to better manage risk with fewer resources on site, writes Ola Bäckström, a product manager for risk at Lloyd’s Register, for Power magazine.

One unexpected result is the acceleration of interest in digitization initiatives. Ten years of digital innovation since the Fukushima accident in March 2011 have brought new ways of modeling and managing risk, and new solutions have been brought to market that are allowing for the safe operation of nuclear power plants.

The digitalization of plant designs is one area of risk assessment that can now be completed automatically. The latest technologies consider more than just schematics and equations, much to the benefit of this new era of nuclear. For instance, digital data combined with international best practices, site-specific data, and an engineer’s own experience can provide a deeper level of insight and analysis than ever before—and faster. Bäckström adds that not just new projects but aging assets can also benefit from digitalization. As more data are input, risk managers can run more accurate simulations and better model existing plants.

Nuclear techniques help Pakistan's textile industry

February 1, 2021, 2:59PMNuclear News

IAEA support, including trainings, workshops and fellowships as well as practical lectures such as this one in Pakistan, have contributed to building the national capacity in cotton breeding techniques. (Photo: L. Jankuloski/Joint FAO/IAEA)

In a story published last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency described a partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations working with local experts in Pakistan to develop and introduce new varieties of cotton that are more resilient and better adapted to the increasingly negative effects of climate change. The new varieties are developed through mutation breeding techniques, wherein seeds, cuttings, or tissue-culture material is exposed to radiation or other mutagen sources, like an X-ray or gamma ray source.

A growing part of the fusion community

January 29, 2021, 12:27PMNuclear NewsGuest Contributor

Fusion energy is no longer a far-off goal. It is now routinely achieved at laboratory scale but requires more energy to control the fusion reaction than the fusion reaction has released.

The path to viable fusion power from a magnetically confined plasma source requires the creation of a burning plasma, whereby the primary heating source comes from the fusion reaction itself.

To begin to consider the economic viability of a fusion power plant, the reaction must have a significant energy gain, or “Q” factor (the ratio of output power to input heating power), in a reaction that is sustained over a time frame of minutes or hours.

Construction has begun on an international experiment—the ITER tokamak—that aims to achieve a sustained reaction, and numerous privately funded smaller experiments have the potential to move forward toward this goal.

Nuclear News reached out to companies in the fusion community to ask for insights into their ongoing work. All are members of the Fusion Industry Association. Most companies submitted briefs at a specified word count, while others ran long and some ran short. Their insights appear on the following pages.

Big fusion moment coming soon, Popular Mechanics says

January 29, 2021, 10:19AMANS Nuclear Cafe

Rendering of SPARC, a compact, high-field, DT burning tokamak, currently under design by a team from MIT and CFS. Source: CFS/MIT-PSFC - CAD Rendering by T. Henderson

The fusion community is reaching a "Kitty Hawk moment" as early as 2025, according to the Popular Mechanics story, "Jeff Bezos Is Backing an Ancient Kind of Nuclear Fusion."

That moment will come from magnetized target fusion (MTF), the January 25 story notes, a technology that dates back to the 1970s when the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory first proposed it. Now, however, MTF’s proponents say that the technology is bearing down to reach the commercial power market. The question is, Will it be viable before the competing fusion model of tokamaks, such as ITER, start operations?

Kim Budil selected as director of Lawrence Livermore Lab

January 28, 2021, 3:02PMANS Nuclear Cafe


Kim Budil has been named director of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The announcement was made to laboratory employees today by Charlene Zettel, chair of Lawrence Livermore National Security (LLNS), which manages the laboratory for the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration.

Budil will begin her new role on March 2.

Details: Budil is the 13th director of LLNL since it was established in 1952 and its first woman director. She will also serve as president of LLNS, replacing Bill Goldstein, who announced his plans to step down last July, pending the successful search for his successor.

Notes on fusion

January 22, 2021, 12:23PMNuclear NewsDavid Kingham and Josh Kennedy-White

The ST25-HTS tokamak.

Governments around the world have been interested in fusion for more than 70 years. Fusion research was largely secret until 1968, when the Soviets unveiled exciting results from their tokamak (a magnetic confinement fusion device with a particular configuration that produces a toroidal plasma). The Soviets realized that tokamaks were not useful as weapons but could produce plasma in the million-degree temperature range to demonstrate Soviet scientific and technical prowess to the world.

Following this breakthrough, government laboratories around the world continued to pursue various methods of confining hot plasma to understand plasma physics under extreme conditions, getting closer and closer to the conditions necessary for fusion energy production. Tokamaks have been by far the most successful configuration. In the 1990s, the Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory produced 10 MW of fusion power using deuterium-tritium fusion. A few years later, the Joint European Torus (JET) in the United Kingdom increased that to 16 MW, getting close to breakeven using 24 MW of power to heat the plasma.

Purdue team uses Argonne’s APS for 3D view of irradiated fuel

January 22, 2021, 9:32AMNuclear News

Image: Purdue University/Maria Okuniewski

A team of researchers led by Purdue University has used X-ray imaging conducted at Argonne National Laboratory’s Advanced Photon Source to obtain a three-dimensional view of the interior of an irradiated nuclear fuel sample. The use of synchrotron micro-computed tomography could lead to more accurate modeling of fuel behavior and more efficient nuclear fuel designs, according to the researchers.