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NNSA-sponsored program fosters new research staff and innovative safeguards solutions

WSU engineering students, from left, Casey Shinn and Daniel Stakhovich help PNNL engineer Rodrigo Guerrero fine-tune the adjustment of the detector position on the scanning apparatus they designed to enable accurate measurement of uranium enrichment in uranium hexafluoride cylinders.

When a partnership between a national laboratory and a university leads to innovative new technology in the field and talented young professionals recruited for NNSA’s nuclear nonproliferation mission, you know you’re doing something right.

Now in its ninth year, NNSA’s Office of International Nuclear Safeguards Human Capital Development sponsors a university engagement activity at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). The lab works with engineering and materials sciences students enrolled in Washington State University’s Industrial Design Clinic to provide opportunities to create prototype equipment for nonproliferation research and training.

Once they graduate, some of the students who have worked as safeguards interns go on to become fulltime staff members supporting the national security mission at PNNL. Rodrigo Guerrero is one such case.  An alumnus of the safeguards internship program, Guerrero is now a staff engineer whose research is benefitting from the creative thinking and ingenuity of the program’s current participants.

Earlier this month, students delivered two projects to PNNL that will directly address engineering challenges encountered in safeguards research.

Students designed and fabricated the framework for dual high purity germanium detectors, which will enable their secure positioning, shielding, and sensitivity. These devices detect low levels of radioactive material and quantify the gamma ray signature unique to each radioisotope. PNNL scientist Mike Cantaloub will use the new equipment in his laboratory.

The program also led to a new scanning apparatus for field testing of an unattended cylinder verification station. Students designed and fabricated a portable device, which will be used to properly position cylinders of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) so they can be measured. Rodrigo Guerrero  will use these fixtures in support of accurate measurements of uranium enrichment and mass in UF6 cylinders.

WSU engineering students, from left, Ingrid Woikey, Robert Nesse, Joseph Skranak, Tyler Spears, and Phoenix Petterson display parts of the framework (on the table) to position one of the pair of high-purity germanium detectors and the holders for radioactive material samples. Their project will enable secure positioning and shielding for these sensitive instruments that detect low levels of radioactive material.