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Lab News -- September 26, 2008

September 26, 2008

LabNews 09/26/2008PDF (1 Mb)

Sandia aids cleanup of Iraqi nuclear facilities, rad waste

By Michael Padilla

Sandia scientists are helping train Iraqi scientists and technicians to clean up radioactively contaminated sites and safely dispose of the radioactive wastes as part of the Iraqi Nuclear Facility Dismantlement and Disposal Program.

The Sandia work is a technical transfer of skills and knowledge that the Labs use day to day, says principal investigator John Cochran (6765). As an example of this, Sandia has transferred its Rad Worker II training materials to the government of Iraq.

The Iraqi Nuclear Facility Dismantlement and Disposal Program (the Iraqi NDs Program) was initiated by the US Department of State to assist Iraq in eliminating the threats from poorly controlled radioactive materials, John says. The current activities build on two years of cooperative efforts coordinated by the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna with support by donor countries. The State Department is coordinating the US government assistance from Sandia, DOE, Texas Tech University, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and others.

Iraqi area of concern

The program focuses on the Al Tuwaitha nuclear complex near Baghdad, which contains major facilities left from Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. The nuclear complex covers more than a square kilometer and includes the remains of two research reactors, a fuel fabrication facility, plutonium separation facilities, and other infrastructure. The Osiraq research reactor at Al Tuwaitha was bombed by Israel in 1981 and the IRT-5000 research reactor was bombed and disabled during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

In 2003, following Operation Iraqi Freedom, looters removed contaminated scrap metal and dozens of 50-gallon barrels that contained yellowcake uranium. The looters poured yellowcake on the ground and in the waterways surrounding Al Tuwaitha and on the village outskirts. Today, the site contains uncharacterized radioactive wastes, waste uranium compounds related to yellowcake, sealed radioactive sources, and activated metals. There are also other sites in the country that have some degree of contamination and will require decommissioning and remediation to ensure radiological safety, John says.

The fresh nuclear fuel, spent nuclear fuel, and enriched uranium have been removed from the country, along with approximately 1,000 radioactive sealed sources.

The sites that previously housed Iraq’s nuclear facilities remain in a radioactively contaminated and hazardous condition. Since Iraq has generated radioactive waste for more than 50 years, and because the country has never had a licensed radioactive waste disposal facility, there are relatively large quantities of radioactive waste and material in guarded storage. John says Iraq has no national strategy or system for radioactive waste management.

Sandia’s role

Sandia provides consultation, training tours, and hands-on demonstrations to Iraqi professionals from the Iraqi regulatory authority, the owner of the Al Tuwaitha complex (the Ministry of Science and Technology), and the Ministry of Environment. The cleanup of a bombed and looted nuclear complex is unique, with no direct analogues in the US, John says.

The Iraqi NDs work is focused on characterization, cleanup, dismantling nuclear facilities, waste management, and waste disposal.

Touring US sites

As part of the project, Sandia researchers took Iraqi scientists on tours through two operating radioactive waste disposal facilities with climatic and geohydrologic conditions similar to those in Iraq. The first site visited was the Nevada Test Site (NTS) and the second was a radioactive waste disposal facility operated by EnergySolutions Inc. located near Clive, Utah.

At NTS, the Iraqis learned about disposal of radioactive wastes in trenches and in 36-meter-deep augered shafts known as greater confinement disposal (GCD) boreholes. John had led a 10-year study of the ability of the GCD boreholes to isolate long-lived transuranic wastes. The security at NTS required significant coordination and support from DOE’s Nevada Field Office.

Sandia has also provided training in the fundamentals of project management, radiological waste management, and the laws governing safe disposal of radioactive waste in America.

“On-the-ground progress is the focus of the training,” John says. “Iraq has budgeted $10 million to the project, and on July 1 the Ministry of Science and Technology began cleaning up the Active Metallurgy Testing Laboratory at Al Tuwaitha.”

Another purpose of the work is to help make radioactive waste management work real and interesting to the scientists who were isolated from their counterparts for more than a decade by United Nations sanctions.

John says professional relationships have been forged between Iraqis and national and international waste management experts.

“This is a modest international program that has an important effect,” says David Kenagy, the US State Department official who is the sponsor of the work. “The project is going very well.”

Other Sandia team members include: Bill Arnold (6781), Jeff Danneels (6761), Carolyn Daniel (6034), Stacy Griffith (6765), Sid Gutierrez (6700), Marvin Hadley (4128), John Inman (4128), Franz Lauffer (4133), David Miller (6765), Joe Schelling (6772), Brian Thomson (4128) and Anisha Quiroz (6051). -- Michael Padilla

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‘A small star on earth’ - Sandia contributes to international fusion project

By Neal Singer

Two prototype systems expected to help contain plasma exceeding 100 million kelvin have been qualified as fit-for-use by Sandia researchers. The

systems, each fronted by tiles with a heat absorption system behind them, are from the US and the European Union.

The plasma will be housed at the $14 billion International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in southern France. The 10-story-high machine — the world’s first burning plasma device — is intended to show that electrical energy can be harvested essentially from seawater, the most widespread material on Earth.

ITER also happens to be a Latin word that means “the path” or “the way.”

ITER, expected online in 2019, will provide a different path to nuclear fusion from the nanosecond compression of tiny capsules of hydrogen isotopes caused by the megagauss magnetic fields generated by Sandia’s Z machine.

Instead, ITER’s task will be to show that stable magnetic fields in the 50 to 130 kilogauss range — generated by the most powerful magnet of its type on Earth, twice as powerful as CERN’s — can contain a heated plasma of deuterium and tritium for a long time in a large volume. That would be six times hotter than the sun’s 15 million K core, for roughly 15 minutes, in a containment device called a torus that resembles an elliptical donut with a major axis of 6.2 meters and a volume of 500 cubic meters.

The systems tested by Sandians have a dual purpose.

Their tiles will form the first line of defense for ITER’s nuclear shield modules that protect the magnets and vacuum vessel from neutron damage.

The systems also absorb plasma ions, energetic neutral atoms, and X-rays while minimizing the amount of contamination reentering the plasma. The energy absorbed is transmitted through a mostly copper support structure to pipes containing a water coolant.

In a power plant, helium coolant would spin turbines to generate electricity.

To test the response of the system and its ability to withstand heat fatigue, Sandia researchers rastered an electron beam over the mostly beryllium tile surface. Infrared cameras observed heat distribution and whether any tiles came loose from their heat-sink backing.

The system endured more than 140 watts of energy deposited on each square centimeter of tiles — the equivalent of 1.4 megawatts over a square meter.

“These are not solar panels,” says Dennis Youchison (1658) of the test output heat intensity. “This is nuclear fusion. This will be a small star on Earth.”

There will be 468 of the tile-fronted systems, one for each nuclear (basically, neutron) shield module in ITER. Eighteen minor variations in module size are required to completely cover the complex torus surface of 500 square meters.

Each one-meter system will be covered by about 800 50-millimeters-square tiles.

To the plasma, “It will look like a fully tiled wall in an ancient Roman bath,” says Dennis.

The tiles will be supported by a copper backing strengthened by the addition of chrome and zirconium. The metal support, almost as strong as steel, will have four times steel’s thermal conductivity, important in removing heat absorbed by the tiles through the metal support structure. By design, the tile temperature will vary between 100 and 340 degrees C, setting a new standard for heat sinks in a nuclear environment with plasma flux.

The US tiles are mortared to their heat sink by thin layers of titanium and copper, diffused together at high temperatures.

“The toughness and stability of the joining layer is the heart of the technology developed by Sandia for the US tiles,” says Mike Ulrickson (1658), Sandia project lead. “This is the first time anyone has created a heat sink that can handle this intense an environment.”

Only Sandia and the European Union lab BESTH in the Czech Republic are approved by the ITER international organization to test the prototype systems, pairs of which will be made in Russia, China, Korea, and Japan, in addition to the EU and US.

The Czech lab uses a radiative, ohmic heater.

“Because of our e-beams, we can see the entire surface during testing,” says Dennis. “Tiles in the Czech lab are covered up with their heater. They can run unattended, but they could have a tile melt and not know it.”

Sandia has a unique capability in engineering, testing, design, and process development. Roughly 20 people at Sandia in Centers 8700, 1600, and 1700 do thermal hydraulic analysis, electromagnetic calculations, stress analysis, materials and joining, applied physics, and plasma wall interactions to support the final design for ITER.

In ITER’s later stages, the 0.5-meter-thick steel nuclear shield is expected to be replaced with a lithium “blanket” equally thick that will make lemonade out of lemons, so to speak, from the dangerous neutrons — almost all of which will penetrate beyond the tile wall. Instead of merely absorbing the neutrons, as will the steel shield, lithium will utilize neutrons to breed tritium gas, which can then be pumped back into the plasma for fusion purposes.

Initially, ITER’s tritium will be imported rather than produced internally by the machine.

Should ITER succeed, demonstration power plants based on the ITER model (and lessons learned from it) are expected to be built among the ITER partners during the decade of the 2030s. — Neal Singer

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New DOE renewable energy program managed by Sandia

By Chris Burroughs

Sandia has been chosen to serve as project manager of a new DOE renewable energy program, Solar Energy Grid Integration Systems (SEGIS), which will involve 12 industry teams from around the country. DOE will invest up to $24 million in FY08 and beyond on the project, depending on the availability of funds.

The program will provide critical research and development funding to develop less expensive, higher performing products to enhance the value of solar photovoltaics (PV) systems to homeowners, business owners, and the nation’s electric utilities. These projects are part of President Bush’s Solar America Initiative, which aims to make solar energy cost-competitive with conventional forms of electricity by 2015.

“We are pleased to have the opportunity to lead this large effort that promises to be an important component of our country’s energy strategy for years to come,” says Margie Tatro, director of Fuel and Water Systems Center 6200. “Increasing the use of alternative and clean energy technologies such as solar is critical to diversifying the nation’s energy sources and reducing our dependence on foreign oil.”

The SEGIS funding opportunity was announced in November 2007. The projects selected for awards focus on collaborative research and development with US industry teams to develop products that will enable photovoltaics to become a more integral part of household, commercial, and utility intelligent energy systems.

A mid-August DOE news release announcing SEGIS cites examples of research teams working together to develop intelligent system controls that integrate solar systems with utility infrastructures and traditional building energy management.

DOE in collaboration with Sandia selected 12 industry teams to participate in the first slate of cost-shared collaborative contracts focusing on conceptual design of hardware components and market analysis.

For these 12 winning projects, $2.9 million in DOE funding is leveraging $1.7 million in industry investments. The plan is to award follow-on contracts in FY09 and beyond — subject to the availability of funds — for projects demonstrating the most promising technology advances exhibiting a high likelihood of commercial success. When the projects are combined with the overall industry investment of up to $16 million, more than $40 million in total could be invested in these SEGIS projects, with future funding subject to appropriations from Congress.

SEGIS contracts awardees: Apollo Solar, EMTEC, Enphase, General Electric, Nextek Power Systems, Petra Solar, Princeton Power, Premium Power, PV Powered, Smart Spark, Florida Solar Energy Center of the University of Central Florida, VPT Energy Inc. — Chris Burroughs

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