eNews October 2021

NMSU Student Awarded Research Grant to Study Sequential Isotopic Actinides in Water

NMSU Student Awarded Research Grant to Study Sequential Isotopic Actinides in Water

By Marcus Gay, NM WRRI Senior Student Program Coordinator

NM WRRI has awarded Rong He, a PhD student at New Mexico State University (NMSU), a Student Water Research Grant to work on a project entitled Sequential Isotopic Determination of Actinides (Plutonium, Americium, and Uranium) in Water. This project will develop a rapid and accurate method for determining the sequential separation of plutonium (Pu), americium (Am), and uranium (U) in water samples and explore the influence of interfering metal ions on the separation and determination of Pu, Am, and U.

Under the guidance of her Faculty Advisor, Dr. Meng Zhou, drinking water and surface water samples will be collected from locations in Las Cruces and Carlsbad, New Mexico. The samples will be spiked with different amounts of interfering metal ions like sodium, potassium, and magnesium for the interference experiments. The concentrations of the metal ions will be determined by Inductively Coupled Plasma/Mass Spectrometry (ICP/MS) at NMSU. In the separation experiments, the separation of Pu from Am and U will be carried out using Anion exchange and TEVA (Tetra Valents Actinides) chromatography columns. TRU and UTEVA (Uranium and Tetra Valents Actinides) chromatography columns will be applied to separate U and Am. The separation and radioactivity determination of actinides will be conducted at the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center (CEMRC). The difference in actinide concentrations in water samples from Las Cruces (far from the WIPP site) and Carlsbad (near the WIPP site) will help monitor the source of actinide contamination, the quality of drinking water, and the quality surface water.

According to Rong He, the accurate determination and fast response of actinides are essential for environmental monitoring and radiation protection. This project aims to help to develop a radioactivity analysis method with fast response and accurate results in the radioactivity determination of Pu, Am, and U in water samples. According to Rong He, this research is significant because the data obtained from this study can help establish a baseline for radioactivity levels in water resources around the WIPP site. The findings from this project will serve as preliminary results for the future collaboration between NMSU and CEMRC.

Rong He presented this research at the 66th Annual New Mexico Water Conference. Originally from China, Rong He has a master’s degree in Engineering from Shanghai University of Engineering Science and plans to graduate in 2023 with a PhD from the Department of Chemical & Materials Engineering at NMSU. After graduation, Rong He would like to be a Postdoctoral Fellow at a university or research institution.

*Fritsch, C. L. P. Chemical toxicity of some actinides and lanthanides towards alveolar macrophages: an in vitro study. International journal of radiation biology, 1999, 75, 1459-1471.