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Zachary Named Department Research Assistant by Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships

Austin Zachary.

Austin Zachary

NE junior Austin Zachary is the first recipient of the Department Research Assistants (DRA) Program sponsored by the Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships, which begins in January and runs through May. The program is designed to advance UT undergraduate research participation.

Zachary will be working with Research Assistant Professor Ondrej Chvala on research that will advance efforts to dispose of weapon grade plutonium (W-Pu) on a grant entitled “Weapon Grade Plutonium Disposal in Thermal Molten Salt Reactors.” This research deals with the excess stockpile of plutonium that is an issue in many countries.

Molten salt reactors (MSR) use liquid alkali-halide salts that readily dissolve plutonium, including W-Pu, and the liquid nature of the fuel means that extraction of desirable elements is relatively easy.

“Zachary will explore the viability of utilizing W-Pu as a fuel in emerging thermal-spectrum molten salt reactors,” said Chvala. “The major advantage of this approach is the relative simplicity of fuel manufacturing, particularly the lack of need to separate off gallium.”

Zachary will be running calculations for an MSR fueling cycle using a model developed by Chvala.

“I hope to get some experience with research in general and expand my interest in MSR technology,” he said.

The research aims to advance developments of a new disposal process in order to reduce the expense of W-Pu disposal, eliminate Pu, and permit extraction of valuable isotopes.