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    Rod Ewing

    Rod Ewing is a Professor in the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences at the University of Michigan and is responsible for the program in nuclear waste management. He also holds appointments in the Departments of Geological Sciences and Materials Science & Engineering at the University of Michigan and at the University of New Mexico in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, where he was a member of the faculty from 1974 to 1984. Rod received a B.S. degree in geology from Texas Christian University (1968, summa cum laude) and M.Sc. (1972) and Ph.D. (1974, with distinction) degrees in mineralogy from Stanford University where he held an NSF Fellowship. Rod is a Fellow of the Geological Society of America and the Mineralogical Society of America. He is president of the Mineralogical Society of America and past-president of the International Union of Materials Research Societies (1997-1998) and the New Mexico Geological Society (1981). He was recently named a Guggenheim Fellow (2002). Present research interests include radiation effects caused by heavy-particle interactions with crystalline materials (e.g., ion-beam modification of ceramics and minerals); the crystal chemistry of actinide and fission product elements; the application of "natural analogues" to the evaluation of the long-term durability of radioactive waste-forms and the release and transport of radionuclides; the low-temperature corrosion of silicate glasses; and the neutronics and mineralogy of the natural nuclear reactors in Gabon, Africa.


    The Hawley Medallist for 2002 is Dr. Rodney C. Ewing. Dr Ewing is a Professor in the Department of Nuclear Engineering & Radiological Sciences, Material Science & Engineering, and Geological Sciences of the University of Michigan. The Hawley Medal is awarded for the best paper to appear in The Canadian Mineralogist in the previous year. Dr. Ewing’s paper, The Design and Evaluation of Nuclear-Waste Forms: Clues from Mineralogy, appeared in Volume 39, Part 3, pp. 697-715.

    Dr. Ewing’s paper was the only paper selected by all three members of the Hawley Medal selection committee: C. V. Guidotti from the University of Maine, Encarnacion Puga from Instituto Andaluz de Ciencias de la Tierra in Granada Spain, and Mavis Stout from the University of Calgary, as one of the five best papers to appear in Volume 39 of The Canadian Mineralogist.

    The committee described the paper as one that demonstrated an innovative application of mineralogy to an important modern-day problem. The paper was clearly written, impeccably documented, and emphasized the importance of the mineralogical sciences to modern science. Crystal-chemical data, information, and insights based on the study of naturally occurring, relatively common minerals, such as zircon and monazite, provide the key for assessing approaches to a crucial problem facing modern society: How to safely dispose of and store nuclear wastes for long periods of time. Only by studying minerals that have naturally stored radioactive elements for long periods of time can society learn how to attack this problem. This paper shows once again that research done by academically-oriented mineralogists can be of key relevance for addressing major technological questions. The selection of this paper for the Hawley Medal rewards research on a topic of scientific importance but a long and fruitful research program.


    Response by R. C. Ewing
    Department of Geological Sciences
    Department of Nuclear Engineering & Radiological Sciences
    Department of Materials Science & Engineering
    University of Michigan
    Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109-2104

    Mr. President, Members of the Mineralogical Association of Canada and guests.

    An author is always pleased to have a paper recognized as a “best paper” – and I am certainly no different; however, I acknowledge the very subjective process by which a “best” paper is selected. Other papers published during 2001 certainly reached a higher level of science or required greater effort and skill. Still, even with these humbling qualifications, I am particularly pleased that this paper was selected, because I think the subject, nuclear materials, is so critically important. The fate of nuclear materials, consumed and generated in nuclear reactors, will determine the future of nuclear power.

    Twenty percent of the world’s electricity is generated from approximately 400 nuclear reactors. The use of nuclear power as a replacement for carbon-based sources of energy reduces carbon emissions by an estimated 600 million metric tons per year. However, these same nuclear power plants, as well as reactors used to produce bomb materials, have left the world with a legacy of 150,000 metric tons of used nuclear fuel stored in 36 countries to varying degrees of care. The global production of used nuclear fuel is on the order of 10,000 metric tons per year, containing 100 metric tons of plutonium. The global inventory of plutonium is over 1,400 metric tons of which approximately 450 metric tons have been separated by reprocessing (250 metric tons are used for weapons). The bare critical mass of 239Pu is less than 10 kg. The fate of plutonium, and other fissile nuclides such as the much more abundant 235U, is a critical environmental and nuclear weapons proliferation concern. Any significant increase in the use of nuclear power will result in substantial increases in the amount of spent nuclear fuel.

    What is the role of geoscientists? If we consider the nuclear fuel cycle as the source term, then the geologic repository is the intersection of the nuclear fuel cycle with geologic cycles, as illustrated by the cartoon in Figure 1. Although the cartoon greatly simplifies the scientific issues, it does illustrate some of the important aspects of the problem. The nuclear fuel cycle operates on a scale of tens of years, and the geochemical or hydrologic cycles operate on scales of hundreds to millions of years. From the nuclear engineering perspective, environmental impact can be lessened by careful design of the fuel cycle. From the geologic perspective, the most important step is in the selection of a repository site. Once the site is selected, the principal geologic means of protecting the environment will by a reduction in the release and transport rates combined with dilution. The science that supports the performance assessment of a site requires an analysis that couples atomic-scale processes, such as spent fuel and waste package corrosion, to crustal-scale processes, such as volcanic activity and climate change, that extend over temporal scales of thousands, if not tens of thousands, of years. The challenge for geoscientists is in modeling these complex, highly-coupled, large-scale geologic systems over extended periods.

    Mineralogist can play an exceptionally important role in this process. On the nuclear side of the cycle, there is considerable interest in designing new fuels, inert matrix fuels that “burn up” excess actinides. This is just mineralogy plus neutrons. On the materials science side, the design, evaluation and selection of nuclear waste forms is a job tailor-made for mineralogists. Nuclear waste forms of high chemical durability that are resistant to radiation damage provide the first and most important barrier against release to the environment. There is already considerable insight on the long-term behavior of such materials, many of them minerals, but much remains to be done in developing special waste forms for specific waste streams.

    I believe that by recognizing this paper, the Mineralogical Association of Canada has focused the attention of the next generation of mineralogists on one of the major environmental issues of this century. Thank you for selecting this paper for the Hawley Medal.

    Figure 1. Cartoon illustrating the intersection of the nuclear fuel cycle and hydrologic and geochemical cycles. The geologic repository is the interface between these cycles. Natural sources of radiation dominate human exposure.

    © 2006 Mineralogical Association of CanadaLast update 2014-02-05