Research

Advanced Reactors

Nuclear power is now in its sixth decade, and considered by many to be an essential component of efforts to limit climate change. However, the events at Fukushima, low gas prices, and long standing concerns over waste disposal and weapons proliferation have put its future in doubt as never before. The sustainability of nuclear power as a low carbon energy source will require a new generation of reactors and fuel cycles that are safer and that will reduce environmental and geopolitical impacts. Future reactors will need to take advantage of advanced design and construction techniques to reduce capital costs, operational risk, and the generation of waste.

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Faculty in the Nuclear Science and Engineering program at Colorado School of Mines are working on advanced reactors and fuel cycles that limit the production of long lived radioactive material.  Modular designs and systems that can run without the need for enrichment or reprocessing are also under study.

Faculty and researchers

  • Mark Deinert
  • Jeff King
  • Andrew Osborne
  • Zeev Shayer

Nuclear Fuel Cycles

In its simplest terms, nuclear fuel cycles encompass all of the processes that affect the material and isotopic streams that move into, through, and out of nuclear reactors. Because of this, research on nuclear fuel cycles sits at the heart of the environmental, economic and geopolitical issues that surround the use and development of nuclear energy systems in this country and abroad.

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Faculty in the Nuclear Science and Engineering program at Colorado School of Mines are actively involved in research on all aspects of current and advanced fuel cycles. Our program is unique in having faculty who are experts in uranium resources, spent fuel reprocessing, the physical and chemical processes that affect the disposal of radiological materials, and fuel cycle economics.

Faculty and researchers

  • Jen Braley
  • Mark Deinert
  • Rod Eggert
  • Uwe Greife
  • Mark Jensen
  • Jeff King
  • Andrew Osborne

Radiochemistry and Nuclear Forensics

Radiochemists study the chemistry of radioactive elements or use radioactivity to probe chemical reactions. The discipline sits at the heart of many parts of the nuclear enterprise and plays key roles in national security, environmental remediation and waste disposal, the reprocessing of nuclear fuel, nuclear medicine, and even in understanding the organization of the periodic table of the elements.

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Colorado School of Mines is at the forefront of modern radiochemistry with facilities that allow us to study extremely rare radioactive elements such as berkelium and californium. Our research programs emphasize multiple aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle with particular interests in separations, environmental, and biological chemistry. For example, Mines faculty are exploring the science to enable new generations of high-efficiency fuel cycle separations by studying the chemistry of the transplutonium elements and through coopting biological metal separation strategies to separate components of used fuel. As with the Nuclear Science and Engineering Program’s other research emphases, work is conducted in close collaborations with the DOE national laboratories.

Faculty and researchers

  • Jen Braley
  • Mark Jensen

Nuclear Security

Limiting the proliferation of nuclear weapons is essential to the long term sustainability of nuclear power. Critical to this effort is the development of methods with which to protect, control, and account for nuclear materials at every point within the nuclear fuel cycle. Faculty in our program are working on technologies to detect nuclear materials hidden in luggage or shipping containers, to better inventory and store used nuclear fuel, and to enhance methods for detecting clandestine nuclear weapons tests. Our faculty and research staff are also working on advanced nuclear fuel cycles that will limit the overall production of weapons usable material.

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Work on Nuclear Security at Colorado School of Mines is done in conjunction with collaborators at Los Alamos, Sandia, Idaho and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratories.

Faculty and researchers

  • Jen Braley
  • Mark Deinert
  • Mark Jensen
  • Jeff King

Radiation Detection and Measurement

The detection and measurement of radiation plays a critical role in medicine, material science, reactor operations, nuclear interdiction, chemical analysis, and fundamental physics to understand the origins of the universe. Improving the physical technologies that are used to register measurements, as well as the algorithms to process the data, remain important areas of research.

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Work on radiation detection and measurement at Colorado School of Mines is focused on the development of next generation radiation detectors and their application to interdiction and the measurement of fundamental nuclear properties. Our faculty are developing ways to use spectral shift in x-ray imaging to detect nuclear materials, enhanced approaches for precision measurements of fission cross sections and fragment distributions, as well as new organic scintillators to improve detection of gamma rays and neutrons. Work in these areas is done in conjunction with collaborators at Los Alamos and Pacific Northwest national laboratories.

Faculty and researchers

  • Mark Deinert
  • Uwe Greife
  • Jeff King

Materials in Extreme Environments

Overcoming the performance limits of current generation materials is among the greatest technical obstacles to the long term sustainability of nuclear power. Fast reactors that can run without the need for enrichment or reprocessing would be a major advance both economically and in their proliferation resistance. While research has shown that reactors such as these are possible, a practical implementation would require materials that can tolerate atomic displacement rates and levels far beyond what is currently possible.

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The safe disposal of long-lived radioactive waste will require fuel matrices and engineered barriers that can withstand high temperatures, radiation fields, as well as immersion in water, over millennia. License extensions to existing reactors will require methods to ensure that reactor vessels and related components can continue to perform within design limits.

The development of materials that can perform in the extreme environments encountered in various parts of the nuclear fuel cycle is considered to be among the grand challenges for the materials science community. Physical processes must be understood and controlled at spatial scales that range from the level of the atomic nucleus to that of a geological repository, and at timescales from less than a nanosecond to millennia. Faculty in the Nuclear Science and Engineering program at Colorado School of Mines are working on the development of steels and oxides that can withstand the high radiation doses of next generation reactors and fuel cycles. They are also developing experimental methods to characterize the physical changes that occur in fuel as it is burned within a reactor, and methods to improve the performance of engineered systems to safely store radiological materials.

Faculty and researchers

  • Kip Findley
  • Ivar Reimanis
  • Jeff King
  • Zeev Shayer