UT Science Forum tackles nuclear energy

Dr. Stephen Skutnik, Assistant Professor at UT’s department of Nuclear Engineering says that the future of nuclear energy depends on if it’s viewed as trash or a treasure.

Skutnik addressed multiple forms of proposed storage methods such as geologic disposal, hydrogeologic disposal, ice sheet disposal and more outlandish solutions such as extraterrestrial and volcanic disposal.

Although scientists have the ability to store used fuel for decades, it is not seen a viable permanent solution.

According to Skutnik, geologic disposal is the only feasible option at this time. It involves storing the radioactive elements deep underground long enough to “run out the clock” on the materials so they are no longer radioactive.

However, “running the clock out” on elements such as Plutonium and Neptunium can take thousands of years. Before locking the elements away in their radioactive tombs, Skutnik supports the idea of isolating the Uranium, a less radioactive element, and reusing it for nuclear fuel.

Skutnik went on to point out that the United States’ method for handling used nuclear waste has not been widely supported. The Nuclear Waste Policy act of 1987 created a permanent, underground repository for radioactive nuclear waste in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, located 100 miles north of Las Vegas.

In 2009, the Obama Administration defunded the Yucca Mountain repository efforts and began the Blue Ribbon Commission. The commission recognized the national need for a consent-base repository program to garner wide public support. The target date for completion is 2048.

The Unite States government hopes to model the program after Sweden and Finland’s programs, the most programs successful thus far.

Robin Hill, a former engineer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, expressed optimism.

“I come to every seminar on the schedule,” Hill said. “I love it.”

“I made my living in this business with reactors, accelerators, fusion machines, waste management and cost benefit work for nuclear reactors,” Hill continued. “This stuff is important; I think the Baker Center should talk about this as well.

The political implications of nuclear energy reprocessing are heavy financial burdens and the possibility Plutonium and Uranium being used as a weapon. Currently, South Korea is seeking relief from a US treaty that prohibits the ability to enrich uranium or seek nuclear reprocessing.

In addition, Japan has been on a quest to recycle nuclear energy that has cost $25 million and generated no success.

“Understanding natural and biological processes is extremely important. The science forum gives students an opportunity to engage in additional educational opportunities that they wouldn’t otherwise see,” said Amanda Womac, president of UT Science Forum and Director of Communications for the Office of the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

For more information about research and developments in science, visit the UT Science Forum in Thompson Boling Café from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. every Friday.

Next week, Terry Hazen, Governor’s Chair for Environmental Biotechnology will be presenting methane issues. Temporary parking passes are available for the event.

Featured image by Ryan McGill

Edited by Ben Webb

UT alumna speaks on climate change at science forum

[title_box title=”UT alumna speaks on climate change at science forum”]

Melissa R. Allen of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory spoke for the 2015 UT Science Forum “Climate Variability and Change: What Fundamental Science and Modeling Tell Us.”

Allen opened by talking about a common debate between climate scientists and detractors; whether or not human activity causes the climate variability that has been observed.

“The scientists, in all of the observations they’d seen and all the modeling they had done worldwide, had come to the conclusion that warming was unequivocal,” Allen said.

To expand on her statement, Allen went on to describe what climate change is.

“We have an energy balance between the Earth and space. The sun’s radiation is coming in as light. Light color or bright color, it will just reflect the light back into space,” Allen said. “The darker surfaces will absorb that radiation and then they re-radiate infrared radiation or long-wave radiation, and that gets trapped then by greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.”

Allen also stated that some greenhouse gasses are good, and that there would not be life on Earth without them.

Her lecture included other topics, such as talking about Sen. James M. Inhofe’s vocal stance against climate change, the infrared absorption spectrum and the polar ice caps.

“Antarctica goes through this cycle every year, that some melts and some melts and some grows back,” Allen said. “The issue, though, is are we losing more ice than we’re gaining?”

She then directed the audience’s attention towards a new study that suggested that the ice caps were gaining more ice than they were losing.

“Turns out, though, that the study that had been done was looking at data from 1992 to 2008, and really all that study said was that increase in ice was constant. What it did not say was that the rate of the decrease in ice was increasing,” Allen said.

Allen closed her lecture by likening the climate change denial to that of an unhealthy individual who refuses to change their lifestyle.

“If we ignore this, we’re kind of like ignoring a doctor that tells us that if we don’t shape up and lose weight and stop smoking, we’re going to have a heart attack,” Allen said. “And we tell the doctor ‘I’m sorry, you’re a heretic because you can’t tell me when I’m going to have a heart attack.'”

Featured image by Benjamin Webb

Edited by Courtney Anderson

UT faculty talk plans to improve tree health on campus

On Friday, Sharon Jean-Philippe, assistant professor of urban forestry, and Sam Adams, UT’s arborist, discussed a new plan to improve the health of trees on campus at the semester’s first Science Forum.

Trees provide wildlife and habitat benefits. They can alter the climate, guide wind, intercept precipitation and heat while also helping cool the environment. Trees can also attenuate sound, help evaporation and filter out urban waste.

However, there are a few issues with the trees at UT.

“Trees in urban areas are faced with a lot of challenges,” Jean-Philippe said.

There are 8,800 trees on UT’s campus, including those on the Agriculture campus and Sorority Village, and less than 1 percent of those trees are in “excellent” condition.

They are planted in the wrong spots and can suffer from “death by mechanical input.” The amount of heat loading from vehicles and buildings can also affect trees in a negative way.

Adams discussed the changes that are taking place to help keep the trees around campus healthy. The primary job is monitoring pests and completing tree risk assessments that test UT trees for failure potential.

“We’re taking a look at contractor plans, making sure numbers are right,” he said. “We’re going to be standing on that and getting a fair amount of planning done.”

The campus landscape plan consists of new zones for different types of trees, but when it comes to choices, Tennessee native trees are higher on the list.

Jean-Philippe and Adams also discussed a “Campus Tree App” that will allow students and anyone near or on campus to view public data about the trees. The app will also provide tree tours around campus, showing “champion trees” and facts about them.

You can access more information about the trees and upcoming forums by visiting UT Science Forum’s site.

Featured Image by Ryan McGill

Edited by Courtney Anderson and Hannah Hunnicutt