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Nuclear energy projects get $2M in DOE grants

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The U.S. Department of Energy awarded $2 million in grants to three MIT projects as part of an initiative to encourage nuclear energy research and development in the United States.

The research will be done through MIT's Center for Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems, which was established in 2000 to work on the development of technologies for nuclear energy plants and fuel facilities. Professor Mujid S. Kazimi of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering directs the center.

The grants were awarded under the DOE's Nuclear Energy Research Initiative (NERI) to develop advanced nuclear technologies to make the U.S. less reliant on imported fossil fuels.

About 85 percent of the world's energy currently comes from fossil fuels, which also account for most of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The United States is responsible for the world's largest percentage of carbon dioxide emissions relative to its gross domestic product. By contrast, France, which uses nuclear power to produce electricity, has the lowest emissions per GDP.

In the next few years, MIT is expected to make a big push in the area of energy research, following the creation by President Susan Hockfield of the MIT Energy Research Council. The council is charged with determining the areas of energy research in which MIT can make the greatest impact.

MIT has a longstanding nuclear energy research program conducted in part through its Center for Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems, the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering, the Department of Chemical Engineering, and the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. The MIT Nuclear Reactor Laboratory is credited with a number of safety advances and research developments in the nuclear energy industry over the past five decades, as well as with developments in nuclear medicine. The Reactor Lab also enables other U.S. universities to conduct research in nuclear energy and medicine by making its lab resources available to them.

The DOE selected the 24 NERI research projects totaling $12 million from a pool of 144 proposals. MIT and Purdue University each earned three awards; the University of Wisconsin, North Carolina State University and University of Michigan each received two grants.

"These awards support the department's advanced nuclear technology development efforts and foster the education and training of the next generation of scientists and engineers needed to move this vital industry forward," said U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman, an MIT alumnus (Sc.D. 1965).

The three MIT projects funded under the NERI grants are:

MIT Professor Ronald Ballinger is the principal investigator on a collaborative project with Los Alamos National Laboratory that will seek to develop a corrosion-resistant material to use for making fuel cladding and structural materials in lead-cooled reactor systems. The project will receive about $1 million in funding over three years.

MIT Professor Neil Todreas and Pavel Hejzlar, a principal research scientist, are co-principal investigators on a project to develop nuclear reactor designs with a flexible conversion ratio for lead alloy and liquid salt coolants. This is a $500,000 grant over two years.

MIT Professor Paul Barton will develop a model for the simulation and optimization of a system to produce hydrogen from water using the heat and/or electricity generated by a nuclear plant. The grant is for $500,000 over three years and is part of a larger project to design a plant that could produce hydrogen without creating greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, Todreas is co-principal investigator with Ehud Greenspan and Donald Olander of the University of California at Berkeley on a project to assess the feasibility of improving pressurized water reactors by using hydride instead of oxide fuels. MIT's award is a $190,000 subcontract from Berkeley for two years.

For a complete list of the 24 NERI grants, go to

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on January 25, 2006 (download PDF).

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