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More than $2 million has been awarded to the University of New Mexico as part of a massive Department of Energy program that is pouring funding into nuclear power research.
The DOE announced last month that UNM had received several awards as part of $61 million the department provided for 74 nuclear energy projects.
UNM was awarded funding for three projects that will cost an estimated $2.2 million over the course of several years. Researchers at UNM will also collaborate on another project that will cost an estimated $4 million, in which work is spread across several universities.
Overall, the DOE recently announced funding for projects at more than 40 U.S. universities as part of the department’s Nuclear Energy University Program.
The agency said the goal of the program is to move the nation closer to a goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. The United Nations defines net-zero emissions as cutting greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible, and that remaining emissions are reabsorbed from the atmosphere by forests, oceans or other means, according to its website.
Most of UNM’s funded projects relate to developing next-generation nuclear reactors that are safer and more efficient, according to nuclear engineering scientists who are part of the projects.
“This is actually very important in terms of the recognition in the nation for our department and for our school,” said Osman Anderoglu, a nuclear engineering professor at UNM, who received one of the DOE awards.
UNM has several unique technologies on campus that allow researchers to do the projects, including a small nuclear reactor, Anderoglu said.
The grant projects include trying to improve technologies for “micro-reactors,” said Minghui Chen, a UNM nuclear engineering professor who received DOE funding. That’s a goal of the nuclear power industry because such reactors, Chen said, which produce between one and 20 megawatts of power, would be more economically feasible than large-scale nuclear power plants and allow the energy to be transportable.
The DOE awards are primarily research and development projects, but there is also money being spent on infrastructure and career development at the universities.
“These awards are an investment in both the next generation of nuclear technology and the next generation of scientists and engineers,” U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said in a statement.
Anderoglu said it will take a variety of clean-energy sources to achieve a net-zero emissions goal.
Nuclear energy accounted for about 8% of U.S. primary energy consumption in 2021, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
“You don’t want to depend on one source, like 100%, nuclear, we are not advocating for that,” Anderoglu said. “We are advocating getting variety in your clean energy source.”