U of S Scientist and Uranium Company Honoured for Uranium Waste Research
SASKATOON, SK—A University of Saskatchewan researcher has received a national award and $200,000 in research funding for his collaborative research with the world’s largest uranium producer to minimize the environmental impact of mine waste.
The research partnership between geochemist Jim Hendry and Cameco has earned the 2008 Synergy Award for Innovation in the large companies category, a recognition by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) of their 15-year effort to protect groundwater from toxins stored in uranium tailings ponds.
“Both partners bring different skill sets to this effort to understand what could happen to the minerals in the tailings that bind the toxins over the next 10,000 years,” says Hendry. “We can then use that knowledge to try to predict their long-term impact on nearby lakes and rivers.”
“Ensuring a sustainable energy supply is vital for Canada’s future,” added NSERC President Suzanne Fortier. “This partnership has helped the uranium and nuclear power industries meet very stringent regulatory requirements as well as reassure the public about safety concerns.”
Hendry is currently in an unprecedented third five-year term as NSERC Industrial Research Chair. This research draws on both Cameco’s knowledge of engineering and processing and Hendry’s expertise in the behavior of toxic elements and their movement through water systems.
After uranium ore is extracted from deep within the ground and processed, a toxic toothpaste-like waste is deposited in tailings ponds. Hendry and Cameco are studying the stability of the toxins arsenic, molybdenum and selenium in these tailings to determine whether the elements could morph into soluble forms in the future and eventually enter the groundwater.
"It is innovative from a corporate perspective in that it is a 15-year relationship and it has flourished,” says Tom Kotzer, senior environmental geochemist at Cameco. “The main reason is that both Cameco scientists and Jim Hendry’s group want to get the science right."
Hendry credits the Canadian Light Source, the synchrotron facility located at the U of S, with the unparalleled power to analyze how these minerals behave in tailings.
The “synergy” between Cameco and his research group, Hendry says, has allowed his research to evolve. In other research, he is exploring the use of clay to effectively seal the contaminants in the earth, and even testing its application to the Alberta oilsands as a means of preventing acid from seeping into groundwater.
Hendry says he is a strong proponent of industry-driven research, provided university researchers can operate at arm’s length from the collaborating company. “Over these 15 years, Cameco has never tried to dictate what we work on or what we do with the results,” Hendry says. “And that’s very important.”
The Synergy Award, which honours partnerships between universities and industry, provides funds to hire an NSERC Industrial R&D Fellow for two years and an additional $200,000 in research funding. Hendry plans to spend his funds on some combination of field work, lab research and computer modeling.
The research has resulted in the training of over 50 individuals at the U of S, including graduate students and post-doctorates in the fields of environmental and aqueous chemistry.
About the University of Saskatchewan (www.usask.ca): The University of Saskatchewan is one of the leading medical doctoral universities in Canada. With 58 degrees, diplomas and certificates in over 100 areas of study, the university is uniquely positioned in the areas of human, animal and plant studies. World-class research facilities, renowned faculty and award-winning students make the U of S a leader in post-secondary education.
About NSERC: NSERC is a federal agency whose vision is to help make Canada a country of discoverers and innovators for the benefit of all Canadians. The agency supports some 26,500 university students and postdoctoral fellows in their advanced studies. NSERC promotes discovery by funding more than 11,800 university professors every year and fosters innovation by encouraging more than 1,400 Canadian companies to participate and invest in university research projects.
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Professor of hydrogeology
Department of Geological Sciences
College of Arts & Science
University of Saskatchewan
University of Saskatchewan
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