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March 30, 2005
Contact: Andrea Albright, University Relations, (785) 864-8860.

National Academies select KU professor for radioactive waste study

LAWRENCE -- Don Steeples, vice provost for scholarly support and Dean A. McGee distinguished professor of geophysics at the University of Kansas, has been named a member of a committee to examine disposition of residual radioactive waste that may remain in storage tanks at three federal nuclear facilities. The work will be done under the auspices of the National Academies, based in Washington, D.C.

Steeples, whose research has included shallow seismic methods for cavity detection, engineering studies and environmental remediation, joins 19 other scholars and experts who are reviewing and evaluating U.S. Department of Energy plans for radioactive waste management.

" I'm proud to be working with such a highly esteemed group of individuals," Steeples said. "The work we have been asked to do will be of growing importance in the future, and I look forward to helping to create satisfactory solutions."

The U.S. Congress commissioned the National Academy of Sciences waste management study in Section 3146 of the Ronald W. Reagan Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush in October 2004. U.S. Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., secured the $1.5 million needed to fund the study.

Spratt has urged the National Academy of Sciences to look at technical, regulatory and environmental issues surrounding a Bush administration plan to leave behind nuclear waste in storage tanks at a Savannah River site in South Carolina.

Department of Energy officials plan to pump out most of the waste in the tanks and convert it into glass rods, which would be moved and stored at a proposed facility near Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Officials then plan to seal remaining sludge inside the tanks and leave them in place.

The committee's objectives are to review and evaluate the plan to manage the leftover waste at sites in Idaho and Washington state as well as the Savannah River site. The committee is scheduled to issue an interim report in July and a final report in January.

Steeples is involved in the development and application of noninvasive geophysical techniques, specifically shallow seismic methods applied to environmental and groundwater problems. He has participated in several National Academies studies, including a study of noninvasive techniques for characterization of the shallow subsurface for environmental and engineering applications.

The National Academies' Board of Radioactive Waste Management was established in 1958 to monitor spent fuel, high-level waste from reprocessing, transuranic waste, low-level waste, mixed waste and naturally occurring radioactive materials. The National Academies bring together committees of experts in areas of science and technology to address critical national issues and to advise the federal government and the public.

For more information about the National Academies visit http://www.nationalacademies.org/. For more information about the Board of Radioactive Waste Management visit http://www7.nationalacademies.org/brwm/.

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