The US Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded up to $40m to four new energy frontier research centers (EFRCs) to expedite development of technologies required to support its environmental management and nuclear cleanup mission.

The four centers, which will be led by Florida State University, Ohio State University, the University of South Carolina and DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, will aim to achieve fundamental advances in safe, efficient, and cost-effective waste cleanup and storage technologies.

Funded by DOE’s Office of Science, the EFRCs will work with DOE’s Office of Environmental Management, which is responsible for the DOE’s cleanup mission.  

A basic research will be carried out by the centers to assist with the cleanup of hazardous waste which has piled up due to decades of nuclear weapons research and production during the 20th century.  The clean up mission is estimated to take decades to complete. 

US Energy Secretary Moniz said: “The four new EFRCs announced today lay the foundation for continuing success in our environmental cleanup efforts, which depend upon advances in innovative science and research technologies.

“As one of America’s most successful use-inspired basic research initiatives, the EFRC program can be counted on to further discoveries that will greatly enhance cleanup efforts and accomplish one of DOE’s core missions.”

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) will lead one center known as Interfacial Dynamics in Radioactive Environments and Materials (IDREAM), which will assess the impact of radiation on the nuclear waste composition in the years to come.

The work will be carried by PNNL together with Washington State University, University of Washington, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Notre Dame, City College of New York and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Washington State University chemistry associate professor and the new center deputy director Aurora Clark said: “It is going to take 40 or 50 years before we are able to process the waste being stored at sites like Hanford.

“Because the waste is highly radioactive, it will evolve over that time and we must predict these changes in advance to design effective methods for remediation and safe disposal.”

Each of the centers will receive awards from $2m to $4m annually for up to four fiscal years.