NCSU to lead $25 million consortium to improve monitoring of nuclear proliferation

jprice@newsobserver.comApril 16, 2014 

— N.C. State University has won the lead role in another major federal grant, this one for $25 million for a consortium of universities and national laboratories to improve the means for detecting international nuclear proliferation.

The grant is from the National Nuclear Security Administration, which announced it Wednesday.

It follows two announcements of larger federal grants in the past eight months: $140 million from the Department of Energy in January to develop next-generation power electronics and $60 million from the National Security Agency to advance the science of “big data.” University researchers also lead a national team that won $25 million in 2011 to study ways to control and prevent foodborne viruses such as noroviruses.

NCSU’s proposal beat out 22 others to win the nuclear proliferation effort, which is called the Consortium for Nonproliferation Enabling Capabilities, or CNEC.

“It’s the dedicated leadership of the faculty that’s working hard to bring in these big projects,” Chancellor Randy Woodson said in an interview. “With the nuclear proliferation project, for example, ours is one of the top nuclear engineering programs in the country, and that’s not something that just happens overnight. It relates serious investment by the state over a long period of time and many years of extraordinary effort by the faculty.”

Woodson said the grants also show how the faculty has focused on areas where the university has a strong competitive advantage.

The NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy. It manages the nation’s stockpile of nuclear weapons, works to prevent nuclear proliferation and reduce the danger from weapons of mass destruction, develops nuclear propulsion for the U.S. Navy and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and elsewhere.

NCSU’s partners in the consortium include the University of Michigan, Purdue University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Kansas State University, Georgia Tech University and N.C. Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro. Various national laboratories also are partners, including Los Alamos, Oak Ridge and Pacific Northwest.

The new consortium involves six departments in three colleges at NCSU and will start a graduate fellowship program that will sponsor six fellows per year.

Robin Gardner, a professor of nuclear and chemical engineering at NCSU and director of the Center for Engineering Applications of Radioisotopes, will lead the consortium. John Mattingly, an associate professor of nuclear engineering, is co-principal investigator.

Gardner’s own work includes a focus on developing alternatives to radioactive material used in instruments, such as those lowered into oil wells to analyze the geology of the bore hole. Such material is a potential target for theft by terrorists, who could use it to craft radiological “dirty bombs.”

He said that some of the topics of research for the consortium will include the hardware and software for detection sensors, improvements in remote-sensing capabilities, and the use of data to better characterize and detect nuclear materials.

Another goal is to create a larger pool of future nuclear nonproliferation and other nuclear security professionals and researchers.

NCSU was home to the nation’s first university-based nongovernmental nuclear reactor for teaching and research, and it still has a small reactor on campus that is a centerpiece of its nuclear engineering program.

NCSU is also the lead university in the Department of Energy-funded Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors, which aims to use computer simulations to create safer, most cost-effective nuclear power plants.

Price: 919-829-4526

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