THE FUTURE OF NUCLEAR ENERGY: Interview with Peter Hosemann

The Future of Nuclear Energy: Interview with Peter Hosemann


If you get cancer treatment today, it’s very likely you will get injected with a radioactive substance. That technology is born out of the nuclear enterprise. Without reactors, you wouldn’t have it. There are numerous examples of the benefits of nuclear engineering beyond just nuclear power.
Dr. Peter Hosemann, Professor in the Department of Nuclear Engineering at University of California, Berkeley

In 2000, nuclear energy from just 30 countries provided approximately 15 percent of worldwide electricity capacity. But by 2019, its share had fallen to 10 percent, with the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicting that without intervention it would fall even further, to 5 percent, by 2040. That represents a significant drop in what could be an important source of clean energy.

“A nuclear power plant doesn’t take up a lot of space, and it can create a tremendous amount of energy, with a carbon footprint that is extremely low,” says Dr. Peter Hosemann, a professor in the Department of Nuclear Engineering at University of California Berkeley, where he is also the current chair.

Nuclear energy is the second-largest low-carbon power source in the world, second only to hydropower. According to the IEA, low-carbon electricity generation has to increase to 85 percent of the world’s energy, from its 36 percent share today, in order to stave off the most calamitous effects of climate change. Of major low-carbon energy sources, nuclear power is the least dependent upon geography.

“I believe the use of nuclear energy will increase as we become more serious about climate change and carbon emission,” Dr. Hosemann says. “I don’t think we have much of a choice.”

Dr. Peter Hosemann is a professor in the Department of Nuclear Engineering at the University of California Berkeley, where he is also the department chair. He received his MS and PhD degrees in material science from Montanuniversität Leoben, Austria.

Prior to joining the Department of Nuclear Engineering at UC Berkeley, Dr. Hosemann was a graduate research assistant and a post-doc at Los Alamos National Laboratory. His research features experimental material science for nuclear applications, with a focus on the structural materials used for nuclear components.



MRS Graduate Student Awards

MRS Graduate Student Awards

Yujun Xie, who is now a postdoctoral fellow at Prof. Peter Hosemann’s group at the University of California at Berkeley and National Center for Electron Microscopy in Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, has won the prestigious gold graduate student award from the 2020 Materials Research Society Spring Meeting for his Ph.D. work at Yale University working with Prof. Judy Cha and Prof. Jan Schroers.
MRS Graduate Student Awards are intended to honor and encourage graduate students whose academic achievements and current materials science research display a high level of excellence and distinction. MRS seeks to recognize students of exceptional ability who show promise for significant future achievement in materials research and education. Yujun was selected as one of 19 finalists and gave an invited competition talk. His presentation titled "Atomistic Understanding of Crystallization Principles in Atomistic Understanding of Crystallization Principles for Additive Manufacturing" was selected as one of the 7 students to receive the Gold Award among the finalists.
One focus of Xie's research is developing predictable outcomes in crystallization when working on the nanoscale.
“My work aims to develop accurate crystallization models beyond conventional theories and enable precise control of the microstructures of the structural alloys over a wide range of length scales from Ångström to micrometer using advanced analytical transmission electron microscopy (TEM) techniques at unprecedented time and spatial resolution,” said Xie, who is now working with Prof. Peter Hosemann on learning the failure mechanism of composite materials in extreme
For more information, click here.

DOE- Sponsored Research Addressing Protective Equipment During The Pandemic UCB-NE/LBNL Collaboration

DOE- Sponsored Research Addressing Protective Equipment During The Pandemic UCB-NE/LBNL Collaboration

August 19, 2020

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Since March 2020 it became obvious that Personnel Protective Equipment (PPE) is essential to maintain core functions during a pandemic.

Essential workers are in need to receive reliable and convenient PPE, especially masks that are easy to breathe in. To address a need we work on a DOE-sponsored project with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL).

Our research and development focuses on two different aspects:

  1. Enhanced filtration and breathability by electrically enhanced filtration
  2. Castable mask designs (factory on a pallet)

The UCB-NE team of researchers Jason Duckering, Jeff Bickel, and Peter Hosemann worked together with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory scientists Deepti Tanjore, Jeffrey Urban, Jaeyoo Choi, and Chaochao Dun to provide rapidly available masks with conventional or enhance filtration to essential workers.

Is Nuclear Power the Solution to Climate Change?

Is Nuclear Power the Solution to Climate Change?

August 14th, 2020

Paul Dorfman and Staffan Qvist both want to save the climate. But one of them wants to rid the world of nuclear reactors while the other wants to build more of them. We brought them together for a debate.

Dorfman, 64, of University College London, is founder and chair of the Nuclear Consulting Group, a collection of experts and activists working on nuclear energy and radiation medicine, nuclear proliferation and the sustainability of energy systems.

Qvist, 34, completed his Ph.D. in nuclear engineering at the University of California at Berkeley and has since been conducting research in the U.S. and Sweden on the safety and economics of nuclear power. He currently runs an energy consultancy firm in Great Britain. He is the author of the book "A Bright Future: How Some Countries Have Solved Climate Change and the Rest Can Follow” together with the economist Joshua Goldstein.

To read the full debate, click here.

Six Nuclear Engineering Faculty Members Receive U.S. Department of Energy NEUP Grants

Six Nuclear Engineering Faculty Members Receive U.S. Department of Energy NEUP Grants

June 18, 2020


NEUP funds nuclear energy research and equipment upgrades at U.S. colleges and universities and provides student educational support.

The following six faculty members were awarded NEUP grants to further their research to help the U.S. Department of Energy accomplish its mission of leading the nation's investment in the development and exploration of advanced nuclear science and technology:

MIT & Raluca Scarlat: Molten Salt Reactor Test Bed with Neutron Irradiation
UTK & Massimiliano Fratoni: Multi-physics fuel performance modeling of TRISO-bearing fuel in advanced reactor environments
Rebecca Abergel: Evaluating hydroxypyridinone-based ligands for actinide and fission products recovery in used fuels
Peter Hosemann: Femtosecond Laser Ablation Machining & Examination - Center for Active Materials Processing (FLAME-CAMP)
Lee Bernstein, Massimiliano Fratoni, Jon:  Improved Molten Salt Reactor Design with New Nuclear Data for the 35Cl(n,x) and 56Fe(n,n’) reactions
NCSU & Peter Hosemann:  Corrosion Sensitivity of Stainless Steels in Pressurized Water Reactor Water Chemistry: Can KOH replace LiOH in PWRs?
NEUP infrastructure:
Peter Hosemann: Scanning Electron Microscope for nuclear materials investigation enabling in-situ techniques and novel characterization for the nuclear energy community


Jeff Graham Wins Poster Award at the TMS Meeting

Jeff Graham Wins Poster Award at the TMS Meeting

February 25, 2020


The Nuclear Engineering Department is pleased to announce that Jeff Graham, a graduate student in Peter Hosemann's nuclear materials research group, took first place for his poster Cold Sprayed ODS Alloys: Mechanical Evaluation in the TMS2020 Additive Manufacturing for Energy Applications section. Cold spraying is an additive manufacturing technique based on metal-to-metal consolidation by means of high-strain-rate plastic deformation, and offers a means of creating complex parts from advanced nanostructured alloys for use in next-generation nuclear reactors. The work presented evaluated the mechanical soundness of parts made of cold-sprayed ferritic stainless steel, and has shown both where the process has promise and what challenges it confronts. His work has been critical in identifying necessary research thrusts in order to bring this technology from the laboratory to industrial application. Jeff's distinctive accomplishments reflect great credit upon himself, the Hosemann research group, and UC Berkeley Nuclear Engineering.

Rebecca Abergel elected as AAAS Fellow

Rebecca Abergel elected as AAAS Fellow

December 3, 2019

Rebecca Abergel of Berkeley Lab's Chemical Sciences Division is studying how an anti-radiation-poisoning pill she developed in 2014 could help to protect people from the potential toxicity in the long-term retention of gadolinium, an ingredient in MRI contrast agents. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory on Wednesday, September 4, 2019 in Berkeley, Calif. 09/04/19

Our very own Rebecca Abergel has been named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), an lifetime distinction bestowed upon the society’s members by their peers.

4 other UC Berkeley faculty members have been awarded and featured in this week's Berkeley News:

"The five are among 443 members awarded the honor because of their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications. Founded in 1848, the AAAS is the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of Science and five other journals."

The article highlighted her work and leadership within the department and at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

See the News article here.

Professor Abergel will receive official certificates and rosette pins in gold and blue, colors symbolizing science and engineering, in a ceremony on Feb. 15, 2020, during the AAAS Annual Meeting in Seattle.

See the AAAS announcement here.

Students make neutrons dance beneath Berkeley campus

Students make neutrons dance beneath Berkeley campus

September 11th, 2018


In an underground vault enclosed by six-foot concrete walls and accessed by a rolling, 25-ton concrete-and-steel door, University of California, Berkeley, students are making neutrons dance to a new tune: one better suited to producing isotopes required for geological dating, police forensics, hospital diagnosis and treatment.

Dating and forensics rely on a spray of neutrons to convert atoms to radioactive isotopes, which betray the chemical composition of a substance, helping to trace a gun or reveal the age of a rock, for example. Hospitals use isotopes produced by neutron irradiation to kill tumors or pinpoint diseases like cancer in the body.

For these applications, however, only nuclear reactors can produce a strong enough spray of neutrons, and there are only two such reactors west of the Mississippi.

As an alternative, a team including UC Berkeley students has built a tabletop neutron source that would be relatively inexpensive to reproduce and eventually portable and also able to produce a narrower range of neutron energies, minimizing the production of unwanted radioactive byproducts.

“Any hospital in the country could have this thing, they could build it for a few hundred thousand dollars to make local, very short-lived medical isotopes — you could just run them up the elevator to the patient,” said Karl van Bibber, a UC Berkeley professor of nuclear engineering who oversees the students perfecting the device. “It has application in geochronology, neutron activation analysis for law enforcement agencies — when the FBI wants to determine the provenance of a sample as evidence, for example — neutron radiography, to look for cracks in aircraft parts. This is very compact, the size of a little convection oven; I think it’s great, we are excited about this.”

students with neutron generator

Graduate students Mauricio Ayllon Unzueta (left) and Jonathan Morrell adjust the high flux neutron generator in an underground vault at UC Berkeley. The aluminum vacuum chamber contains the deuterium plasma and the cathode target where the neutrons are generated via fusion. (UC Berkeley photo by Irene Yi)

UC Berkeley researchers have now demonstrated that the high flux neutron generator (HFNG) can produce “boutique” neutrons — neutrons within a very narrow range of energies — that can be used to accurately date fine-grained rocks nearly impossible to date by other radioisotope techniques. The study will be published this week in the journal Science Advances.

“This will expand the capability of dating fine-grained materials, like clay minerals associated with ore deposits, including gold, or lava flows,” said Paul Renne, a UC Berkeley professor-in- residence in the Department of Earth and Planetary Science and director of the Berkeley Geochronology Center. “This device might also let us look at the most primitive objects in our solar system — calcium/aluminum-rich inclusions found in certain types of meteorites — which are also very fine-grained.”

As they report in the new paper, the researchers used the neutron generator to determine the age of fine-grained lava from the 79 A.D. eruption of Vesuvius, which buried the Roman city of Pompeii. The date they calculated was as precise as the answer given by an exhaustive study in 1997 using state-of-the-art argon-argon dating of samples irradiated at a nuclear reactor.

“It’s making it possible to do things that were not possible otherwise,” Renne said.

The long road to desktop fusion

Renne has been searching for better ways to irradiate rock samples for decades and heard about one possible method from the late UC Berkeley nuclear engineering professor Stanley Prussin, who died in 2015. The technique involves the fusion of two deuterium atoms, which are isotopes of hydrogen, to produce helium-3 and one neutron. These neutrons have an energy — about 2.5 million electron volts — that is ideal for irradiating rocks to conduct argon-argon dating, one of the most precise methods in use today.

van Bibber and Renne near the vault

Nuclear engineer Karl van Bibber (left) and geochronologist Paul Renne (right) standing by the massive door to the vault housing the neutron generator. (UC Berkeley photo by Robert Sanders)

Argon-argon dating relies on the fact that about one in every 1,000 potassium atoms in rock is the radioactive isotope potassium-40, which decays to argon-40 with a half-life of more than a billion years. Using neutrons, scientists convert some of the stable potassium, potassium-39, to argon-39, then measure the ratio of Ar-40 to Ar-39 in the sample to calculate its age.

Rock samples must now be irradiated at nuclear reactors, but reactors produce very energetic neutrons that can knock argon atoms out of the sample — a particular problem for rocks with microscopic grains — and also produce unwanted radioactive elements. Both effects make age calculation more difficult.

The HFNG avoids both of these problems, because the neutrons are one-tenth the energy of those from a nuclear reactor and have a narrower range of energies, while still maintaining a high flux of neutrons.

“Eliminating the recoil issue, plus reduction of interfering reactions, is huge,” Renne said. “But the radiological aspects are also improved.”

“The beauty of this thing, we realized, is that you don’t have this thing spewing neutrons everywhere and creating a radiological issue,” added van Bibber, who is the Shankar Sastry Chair of Leadership and Innovation. “You’re actually having a modest number of neutrons, but by getting the target close to the point source — the thing that matters — the neutron flux at the sample is very high.”

The first device to create neutrons via deuterium-deuterium (D-D) fusion was designed 10 years ago by Renne’s team, which included plasma physicist Ka-Ngo Leung, formerly of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). But their prototype languished until van Bibber took an interest in 2012, shortly after his appointment as chair of UC Berkeley’s Department of Nuclear Engineering. To house the fusion generator, van Bibber took over a concrete vault formerly used for experiments conducted with the campus’s nuclear reactor, which used to sit under what is now Soda Hall — though it sits in a large underground room that is part of the basement of Etcheverry Hall — until the reactor closed in 1987 and was removed.

a cutaway view of the neutron generator

This cutaway of the high flux neutron generator shows the two chambers (bronze) where the deuterium is heated to 50,000 C, creating a plasma of ionized deuterium. A 100,000-volt charge at the extraction plate accelerates the ions toward the target, which contains more deuterium atoms. When two deuterium atoms fuse, they produce a neutron, which irradiates a sample placed nearby. The shroud prevents excessive heating from backstreaming electrons.

The generator employs about 100,000 volts to accelerate ionized deuterium atoms toward a metal cathode made of titanium. The deuterium accumulates on the cathode in a thin layer that then serves as a target for other incoming ions. When colliding deuterons fuse, a neutron is produced in a broad beam that irradiates the sample located about a third of an inch away.

Over the years, van Bibber enlisted many undergraduates, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to help make the neutron generator a reality. One of them, transfer student Max Wallace, a rising senior interested in nuclear forensics, was amazed at the access he had to such a machine.

“It’s rare to be able to work with radioisotopes as an undergraduate,” said the former software engineer. “I learned to do so much late at night, wearing gloves and goggles to measure the radiation, taking samples, doing safety checks and running the software. Really, I’d learn something in my nuclear physics class and then come down here to work on a direct application of it.”

For Mauricio Ayllon Unzueta, a fourth-year graduate student in nuclear engineering, the experience he obtained in helping to perfect the neutron generator led directly to a new project at Berkeley Lab: designing a variant of the HFNG that could be taken into the field to do neutron activation of soils to measure carbon content — a key piece of information if society hopes to sequester carbon in soils to mitigate climate change.

“Through three generations of graduate students, we turned it from something which barely worked into a high performing neutron generator,” van Bibber said.

Daniel Rutte, a UC Berkeley postdoctoral researcher in geology working with Renne and BGC lab manager Tim Becker, played a critical role in designing and conducting the first dating experiment, according to Renne.

“Daniel was literally the key player in demonstrating that this would work for Ar-Ar geochronology,” he said.

Rutte’s goal is to develop new methods and instruments to better understand Earth processes, in particular the deformation of the Earth’s crust, which occurs by slow creep or rapid rupture resulting in earthquakes.

“To understand long-term crustal deformation, I date old ruptures preserved in the rock record,” Rutte said. “The neutron generator will aid progress in this field by expanding the range of materials we can date.”

Karl van Bibber adjusting neutron generator

Karl van Bibber examining the high flux neutron generator in an underground concrete vault that blocks X-rays produced when the experiment is running. (UC Berkeley photo by Robert Sanders)

With ongoing student help, van Bibber and Renne expect to be able to make the neutron generator more compact and to produce a more intense spray of neutrons, making it more broadly useful for geochronology, as well as for other specialized uses. Researchers at UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory have already shown interest in using these neutrons to test electronic hardware to determine how it will survive in the radioactive environment of space. Higher energy neutrons could be used for neutron radiography, which can complement X-ray radiography in imaging the interior of dense objects, like metals.

“The purpose all along had been to test Paul’s dream of whether we could use a very compact, low-voltage device to do neutron irradiation,” van Bibber said. “We’ve now shown that any university can have a neutron source for doing the argon-argon dating technique.”

Co-authors of the paper with Renne, van Bibber, Wallace and Ayllon are former postdoctoral researcher and first author Daniel Rutte, now at the University of Bonn in Germany; students Jonathan Morrell, Jon Batchelder, Su-Ann Chong, Will Heriot, Angel Marcial, Charles Johnson, Graham Woolley and Parker Adams and electrical engineer Jay James, all of UC Berkeley; Liqiang Qi, Jonathan Wilson and Mathieu Lebois of the Institut de Physique Nucléaire d’Orsay in France; Tim Becker of BGC; and Lee Bernstein of Berkeley Lab. The work was funded in part by the National Science Foundation (EAR-0960138).

NSSC Featured on NNSA Website

NSSC featured on NNSA website

December 14th, 2018


In an article titled "Academic consortium takes learning about nuclear science on the road", the National Nuclear Scurity Administration highlights the accomplishments of the Nuclear Science and Security Consortium.

Read the entire article here:

Excerpt from the article:

The Nuclear Science and Security Consortium (NSSC) – an NNSA-funded academic program led by the University of California, Berkeley – took their mission on the road to reach a broader audience in 2018.

The consortium of eight universities took a creative approach to educating and training the next generation of nuclear professionals.

“NSSC spearheaded many activities this year to give students and mentors throughout the Nuclear Security Enterprise a chance to build connections and showcase their work,” said Dr. Edward Watkins, Assistant Deputy Administrator for NNSA’s Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Research and Development. “These activities allowed consortium participants to work together on creative projects and update peers in person on progress of their research.”

One of the first events to take center stage took place at NNSA’s annual University Program Reviewhosted by University of Michigan in July. Along with partner consortia, NSSC fellows presented their work to peers and other nuclear security professionals.