One of my favourites has to be polonium, though, the first element to be discovered by Marie and Pierre Curie. They were working in a modified shed with substances so dangerously radioactive their notes are still too active to be handled safely.
Working together they isolated this element and later named it Polonium after Marie’s home country. (A country, I may add, that turned her away from her pursuit of education as she was a politically interested female). It was her hope that by naming the element after Poland she could generate interested in the independence (from Germany) campaign for the country. Yet the victory comes in under the French flag where the work was carried out.
It remains to this day the only element to be named after a political cause, and a wonderful tribute to a phenomenal woman.
Have you seen this Periodic Table of the Elements categorized by country location of discovery? This image was created by science communicator Jamie Gallagher by The Smithsonian.
From Jamie Gallagher:
What is your favorite element or story of discovery?
Think nuclear technology is just about nuclear energy? Think again. There are limitless applications for nuclear science and radiation, including protecting and preserving works of art around the world. The techniques in this video are supported by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which operates projects to preserve cultural heritage artifacts using radiation.
Watch the video to learn more!
What are your thoughts?
By Lenka Kollar
Last week Argonne National Laboratory held an Energy Slam featuring four Argonne researchers to debate non-fossil energy sources. If you missed the webcast, here's a great recap. Each presenter had 10 minutes to give the case for their energy source and then the audience voted by clapping for their favorite.
Nuclear - J’Tia Taylor, nuclear engineer and Nonproliferation Technical Associate at Argonne (pictured above)
Wind - Guenter Conzelmann, head of Argonne’s Wind Power Technologies and Analysis Program
Biofuels - Jennifer Dunn, head of Argonne’s Biofuel Life Cycle Analysis Team
Solar - Seth Darling, nanoscientist who focuses on solar energy conversion
All of the presenters made a great case for their energy source and of course the answer is an "all of the above" approach. However, Argonne used a tool to measure the decibel level of the audience applause and determined that Seth Darling and his solar presentation had the most support. Probably because he brought a prop (pictured above); a flexible solar panel on which he was charging his phone!
Watch the full video of the Argonne Energy Slam here.
Which energy source gets your vote?
By Nicholas Thompson
The Nuclear Engineering Student Delegation (NESD) is a student run organization that brings students from around the country to Washington, D.C., for a week over the summer to talk with politicians and policymakers about nuclear engineering education funding, energy policy, and any other concerns nuclear engineering students may have.
Delegates start the week with writing a policy statement expressing their concerns and interests, which is distributed in meetings throughout the week. Last year, delegates met with key governmental affairs staff at the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) and Areva, high level staff at the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy (DOE NE), four of the five Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Commissioners (including the Chairman), non-proliferation experts at the Department of State, budget staff at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), staff on the Natural Resources and Environment and Public Works Committees, and over one hundred congressional offices (including a few Representatives and Senators in person). The NESD gives students a voice in government and helps to inform policymakers about nuclear issues while simultaneously giving students an inside perspective on how government works and how to get involved.
Anyone who is interested in policy or government, or just wants to have their voice heard should apply on the website. The program is open to both undergraduate and graduate students. Applications are due on April 20th. Policy statements from the previous years can be found here and for more information or for answers to any questions, please contact NESD.
By Lenka Kollar
Earlier this month, the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) published its annual survey on nuclear engineering enrollment and degrees. The 2013 data shows that the number of graduates in nuclear engineering programs continues to grow (shown below) and that students work in a variety of fields after graduation.
Read this full article on the ANS Nuclear Cafe...
By Lenka Kollar
Congressmen have long disagreed on global warming and the need for clean energy but the two sides of of the isle finally came together on legislation that will drastically reduce carbon emissions. The game-changer is actually the oldest form of energy used by man: wood-burning fire.
Greenpeace heavily advocating for the passing of this bill because when trees are grown sustainably and burned for heat, the process is carbon-neutral. "This is the cleanest form of energy we've got," says President Obama, "Forget windmills and solar cells, the people in the dark ages had it right. This bill is our first step to fighting climate change."
The new Clean Energy Act calls for phasing out of all electric power plants by 2020 and requirements for all new construction to contain fireplaces. The Department of Energy is also working on an efficient wood-burning engine for cars and long-lasting candles for indoor lighting. The EPA estimates that carbon emissions should decrease back to pre-industrialization levels by 2040 and that climate change will no longer be an issue.
Rumors on the Hill also indicate that bills for demilitarization and outlawing marriage are being negotiated.
Happy April 1st!
By Mark Reed
While researching an obscure topic related to my doctoral thesis, I happened upon multiple references to a 1969 paper in Kernenergie - an academic journal published in the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR), or East Germany.
Typically, this is every academic’s nightmare – an obscure paper published behind the Iron Curtain a quarter century before the internet in a country that no longer exists. Fortunately, I had an inroad. I emailed a German relative who lives in Weimar and manages IT at the University of Jena. He walked into the library basement and scanned me a copy!
Not only was the paper valuable for my research, but it also made me think; Kernenergie. English, or Anglo-Saxon, is a Germanic language. Kern is the root of kernel, as in a kernel of corn. So in German, “nuclear” is “kernel”.
My next thought was, “Well, that’s interesting. I’m sure kern(el) has different overtones in German, but the English connotation is just so weaksauce – such a contrast with the fearsome connotation of nuclear. Hey, what if we started referring to ‘nuclear energy’ as ‘kernel energy’?”
Nuclear energy has a perception problem, and a large swath of that problem stems from the word nuclear – its place in our history, its media hype, and its resulting connotation. The word has been poisoned. So what if we simply chose a more benign (but equally suitable) word? How would that one superficial alteration – a mere word – change public perception of “kernel technology”?
Instead of imagining bombs and mushroom clouds, people would think of popcorn. If it sounds like something we put it in our mouths, it can’t be that bad. How much more would the public approve of new “kernel plants”?
Some may view such rebranding as nothing more than cynical politics – manipulating words to “trick” the public. I don’t disagree, but unfortunately, this is how the game is played. Whether we like it or not, nuclear energy is a political issue, and in politics, every word is poll-tested. There’s a reason why “civil unions” preceded “marriage”, and there’s also a reason why “nuclear energy” is more popular than “nuclear power”. Words matter.
Of course, there would inevitably be drawbacks. “Kernel engineering” wouldn’t be nearly so sexy. The “danger” would be gone. We nuclear engineers would lose some of our debonair, James-Bond-like charm - the hallmark of our profession. Nevertheless, even the most prolific “nuclear rakes” would be compelled to sacrifice some of their charisma for the betterment of mankind through clean, sustainable energy.
By Lenka Kollar
The Nuclear Security Summit is ongoing this week at The Hague in Netherlands and one of the biggest successes is that Japan has agreed to allow the United States to take over a stockpile of weapons-grade nuclear material in Japan. This material is at the Fast Critical Assembly at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency and was used/produced in research for fast reactor development, not for nuclear weapons. However, the material is weapons-grade and thus its security is a concern.
President Obama's goal has been to secure nuclear material around the globe, mainly to protect from theft by non-state actors (e.g. terrorists). However, the Administration's recent decision to cut funding for the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility (read post) does not show commitment to nonproliferation goals.
This agreement with Japan says that the United States will remove and dispose of the nuclear material. Having a MOX facility to put weapons-grade plutonium into commercial fuel and burn it in a reactor is the best way to dispose of it because it becomes too radioactive to use in a weapons. What is the point of taking control of the nuclear material in Japan if we can't dispose of it?
By Lenka Kollar
In the fiscal year 2015 federal budget request, funding for the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site (SRS) was cut and now South Carolina is suing the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to bring the project back. The facility is 60% complete and employs about 1,800 workers. The project is over budget and DOE says that the resources aren't there to continue. However, stopping the project would violate a nonproliferation treaty with Russia to get rid of weapons-grade nuclear material.
The purpose of the MOX Project is to covert excess weapons-grade plutonium into commercial fuel for nuclear power plants. MOX stands for "mixed oxide" fuel, mixed because the fuel contains uranium oxide and plutonium oxide, instead of just uranium oxide. Uranium is a naturally-occuring element that is mined from the ground but plutonium is not naturally-occuring. The U.S. produced a stockpile of plutonium for nuclear weapons, but the plutonium can also be used for nuclear energy. Because some uranium in a nuclear reactor turns into plutonium, it is already a proven fuel for nuclear energy. Once used in a reactor, the plutonium fuel becomes too radioactive to use in a weapon.
The MOX Project is a great idea both for getting rid of weapons material and for using existing material to produce electricity. However, the project has taken more resources than expected and thus the DOE has run out of funding.
Do you think that the federal government should continue to fund the MOX Project?
By Lenka Kollar
Dr. Patrick Moore was there for the beginnings of Greenpeace and then later co-founded the CASEnergy Coalition, which is a pro-nuclear energy organization. Moore's testimony before a senate committee earlier this year spiked some controversy. You can read the highlights here but I think the most striking thing about his testimony was the following:
Teaching children that “the human species is a separate, evil thing from nature is extremely damaging to their orientation of life.”
This statement is in reference to the climate change movement and how we are acting like we are the absolute enemies to the Earth and will cause its, and our own, destruction.
I believe that humans, even in an industrialized society, can work with "mother nature" and not destroy the Earth. And, the very notion that this is possible is something that we should consider. I think that many people think that in order avoid climate change, or any man-made effect on the Earth, we need to drastically reduce our population and go back to "caveman days." However, there is an equilibrium that we can reach to not destroy our environment. Reliable and clean base-load electricity should be part of the plan and nuclear energy can play a big role.
How do we move towards a more sustainable future?