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FSU gets federal money for nuke waste research

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Florida State University is getting $10 million from the federal government toward researching better ways to clean up nuclear waste.

The university announced the award Monday.

The money, from the U.S. Department of Energy, will fund the creation of an “Energy Frontier Research Center” focusing on “developing technologies for recycling nuclear fuel and cleaning up Cold War-era weapon production sites,” according to a press release.

Chemistry professor Thomas Albrecht-Schmitt will lead it.

“I’m ecstatic that they have chosen FSU for a new center,” he said. “When I came here, my goal was to make us a force in radiochemistry, and I think with this award, it shows we have accomplished that goal.”

Nuclear fuel “remains dangerously radioactive for thousands of years after it is no longer useful in a commercial reactor,” according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. “The resulting waste disposal problem has become a major challenge for policymakers.”

“Over the past four decades, the entire nuclear industry has produced 76,430 metric tons of used nuclear fuel,” says the Nuclear Energy Institute. “If used fuel were stacked end-to-end and side-by-side, this would cover a football field about eight yards deep.”

Three other institutions also will also host such centers: Ohio State University, the University of South Carolina and DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

“The competition for these types of awards is brutal, as it should be for such a significant level of funding,” said Sam Huckaba, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Tom has proven that his work is worthy of such a huge investment by the Department of Energy.”

Albrecht-Schmitt does research into “some of the least-understood elements of the periodic table that are part of what’s called the actinide series,” the release said.

His lab “is a novelty in the world of university science,” it added. “His chemistry lab is specifically designed to handle radioactive elements like californium or berkelium, making it the only university lab in the country equipped to do so.”

The grant will support 10 graduate students and seven postdoctoral researchers at FSU.

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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