Nicole (Moore) DiBlasi (Hixon group)

Plutonium-EDTA: Solubility, Redox Behavior, and Aqueous Speciation

September 16, 2020

Nicole Moore

Nicole (Moore) DiBlasi is a fifth-year graduate student advised by Prof. Amy E. Hixon in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering & Earth Sciences. She presented "Plutonium-EDTA: Solubility, Redox Behavior, and Aqueous Speciation” at the ND Energy PD&GS Seminar in September 2020.

DiBlasi investigates the environmental interactions of nuclear waste components to ensure the proper disposal of nuclear materials. One of the major challenges to the widespread implementation of nuclear power generation are the environmental impacts of radioactive waste.

“I do research to help make sure plutonium does not end up in anyone’s groundwater,” DiBlasi said.

While an undergraduate student at the University of Missouri, DiBlasi became interested in the field of environmental radiochemistry after learning about the Hanford site, a decommissioned nuclear facility in Washington. After decades of plutonium production for the nation’s nuclear weapon arsenal, the Department of Energy is now tasked with the cleanup efforts of the radioactive waste. Under the supervision of Dr. Silvia Jurisson, DiBlasi investigated possible remediation pathways for Technetium-99 through mineral-mediated reduction processes.

“The field is so necessary, new, applied, and tangible,” DiBlasi said. “I love my research, because I feel that my experiments will actually make a measurable difference in how we dispose of used nuclear materials and approach radiochemical environmental remediation.”

Even if nuclear power is not used extensively in the United States, the presence of nuclear waste remains.

“To me, this means that the issue of used nuclear fuel should not be an obstacle to nuclear power,” DiBlasi said. “Just because we don’t implement nuclear power generation doesn’t mean we don’t have nuclear materials to deal with. So why make it an obstacle to such a wonderful energy option.”

In addition to working with the instrumentation in the Actinide Laboratories shared by the Burns and Hixon groups, DiBlasi has recently utilized the XPS at ND Energy’s Materials Characterization Facility.

By nature, her work is very collaborative not only on campus but also nationally and even internationally. DiBlasi works with the Actinide Chemistry and Repository Science Program (ACRSP) team at Los Alamos National Laboratory, which directly supports the research efforts for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, New Mexico. She also works with the Aquatic Chemistry group (within the Radiochemistry section) at the Institute for Nuclear Waste Disposal at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT-INE) in Karlsruhe, Germany. DiBlasi spent three months conducting research at both of these sites.

“Notre Dame has allowed me the flexibility to learn not just from my cohort, Notre Dame professors, and my advisor, but also to travel the world and learn from the experts in my field,” DiBlasi said, crediting Hixon for her support and encouragement as a Ph.D. advisor. “She has fostered a group dynamic that is collaborative, supportive, and super fun to be a part of. I have not only found a group of lab mates that I love working with but also a great group of friends.”

DiBlasi is a member of the GLOBES certificate program in environment and society through the John J. Reilly Center for Science, Technology, and Values. GLOBES is an interdisciplinary training program designed to enhance a graduate student’s research and education by integrating skill sets from working in a secondary field of interest.

“Science is never truly a single discipline,” DiBlasi said. “Being able to work in an interdisciplinary setting and learn from people who think differently from you is truly invaluable.”