Professorship draws attention to nuclear-waste research
CLEMSON — A Clemson University researcher who is overseeing a $5.25-million research project has been appointed to a professorship that was named for the husband-and-wife team that played a central role in his graduate studies.
Brian Powell was appointed the Fjeld Professor in Nuclear Environmental Engineering and Science.
The professorship is named for Bob and Pam Fjeld and is expected to draw attention to the work that Powell is doing to find the safest ways of remediating legacy nuclear waste sites and storing nuclear waste.
“I have been really fortunate with some of the successes we’ve had with the program,” Powell said. “This stands above everything because of the professional and personal relationships I’ve had with the Fjelds.”
Professorships help honor high-quality faculty members and serve as an enduring tribute to university supporters. As part of the professorship, Powell will receive financial support to help advance his scholarship.
Powell won the 2014 Governor’s Young Scientist Award for Excellence in Scientific Research. He is also the principal investigator on a $5.25-million grant that has brought a new “testbed” to Clemson for nuclear waste research.
With the testbed, researchers are able to test movement of subsurface radionuclides which dictate how underground storage methods will perform. Part of what makes the testbed unique is that it allows for experiments on an intermediate scale in real-world conditions.
The project also includes new instruments allowing researchers to collect 3D data that visualize radionuclide movement in the environment.
“We’re testing waste disposal scenarios so that we can be highly confident of what will work in the real world,” Powell said. “This is a unique testbed unmatched in the country that is led by an outstanding research team of scientists and engineers in South Carolina.
“We’ve brought together some of the state’s top minds to work on this. Researchers from Clemson, S.C. State and the University of South Carolina are involved. The goal is to advance the science behind environmental monitoring, remediation and disposal of radioactive contaminants.”
David Freedman, chair of the environmental engineering and Earth sciences, said the research Powell leads is critically important for the nation, particularly for South Carolina.
“We’re continuing to produce nuclear waste, but there are still questions about what we’re going to do with it in the long term,” Freedman said. “Brian and his team are helping find answers and providing options for policymakers.”
South Carolina is home to seven nuclear power plants, and six more are close to the state’s borders. Two nuclear reactors are under construction in South Carolina and Georgia. South Carolina is also home to the Savannah River Site.
Several faculty members from the University of South Carolina and South Carolina State University participate in the project. They include Travis Knight of USC and Musa Danjaji of S.C. State. The study is funded by the Department of Energy’s Office of Science through the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research.
Powell received his master’s and doctoral degrees from Clemson. After receiving his Ph.D. in 2004, he went to work at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and Lawrence Livermore National Lab.
Powell returned to Clemson as a faculty member in 2008. He is now an associate professor of environmental engineering and Earth sciences, holding the same job that his former Ph.D. adviser, Bob Fjeld, once did.
“Pam and I have known Brian for more than 15 years and have kept in close contact with him as his career has progressed,” Bob Fjeld said. “We are honored to have this professorship established in our name and delighted that Brian has been selected to fill the position.
“Brian has accomplished much in a relatively short period of time. We have the utmost confidence in his ability to push the frontiers of knowledge and to find new ways of keeping the public and environment safe.”
Powell said he met Pam Fjeld while applying to be a student at Clemson.
She recruited him to Clemson as a master’s student when he graduated from the University of Montevallo in Alabama in 1999. At the time, Pam Fjeld worked at Clemson as graduate student services coordinator for what was then called the Department of Environmental Engineering and Science. She worked for the department from 1987 to 2003.
“She went out on a limb for me,” Powell said. “I was coming from a small university and applying to a top-ranked program.”
Powell is continuing work within the Nuclear Environmental Engineering and Science program that Bob Fjeld started. The program focuses on research and education.
Now an emeritus faculty member, Bob Fjeld has been in the department since 1980.
His research focused on the environmental aspects of nuclear technologies. He did pioneering work in the area of risk assessment, and he is the lead author of a widely used textbook, “Environmental Risk Analysis for Human Health.”
He held the Jerry E. and Harriett Calvert Dempsey Professorship of Waste Management from 1996 until he retired in 2009.
Congratulations on Powell’s professorship came from across campus, including from Robert Jones, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost.
“The professorship reflects the exemplary work that Brian has done,” Jones said. “His research sets a fine example of how to build a team that crosses disciplines and institutions.”
Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering and Science, said that Powell was highly deserving of the professorship.
“Brian is an exceptional scholar,” Gramopadhye said. “His work is bringing distinction to Clemson and is helping find a sustainable path forward for nuclear energy. Clemson, the state and the nation are fortunate to have him. I congratulate him on this richly deserved honor.”