This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Nuke site treatment wall designed
by UB researcher wins national award

Aerial view of the permeable treatment wall (PTW).

  • UB faculty member Alan Rabideau worked on the West Valley groundwater remediation project with UB alumnus Rick Frappa of AMEX Geomatrix and UB PhD candidate Shannon Seneca. Photo: DOUGLAS LEVERE

Published: November 7, 2011

An innovative nuclear waste cleanup project that Amherst-based AMEC Geomatrix completed with UB researchers has received the National Ground Water Association’s 2011 Ground Water Remediation Award.

The collaboration involved the construction of a massive, permeable treatment wall (PTW) made from a volcanic mineral (a natural zeolite) that removes radioactive strontium-90 from groundwater at the West Valley Demonstration Project 30 miles south of Buffalo. The wall is expected to be sustainable for at least 20 years, and the treatment method could be utilized at other radioactive sites.

The team that designed the wall was led by UB geology alumnus Rick Frappa, principal hydrogeologist and vice president with AMEC Geomatrix, an engineering and consulting firm with offices nationwide. Scott Warner in AMEC’s Oakland, Calif., office supported the evaluation of alternatives and PTW design.

Frappa’s partners on the project included West Valley technical staff, along with Alan Rabideau, UB professor of civil, structural and environmental engineering, and Shannon Seneca, UB engineering PhD candidate.

Seneca is a student in Rabideau’s ERIE (Ecosystem Restoration through Interdisciplinary Exchange) program, a collection of academic programs and research projects that advance the science, engineering and policy of ecosystem restoration in the Great Lakes region. Funding and support for ERIE comes, in part, from the National Science Foundation, corporate sponsors and local donors.

The Ground Water Remediation Award recognizes outstanding science, engineering and/or innovation in the area of remediating groundwater.

“The PTW at West Valley is the first-in-the-world reactive barrier installed using a continuous trenching machine to treat in-situ strontium-90,” Frappa says. “The PTW represents the culmination of years of study and planning by the project team, which includes geologists and engineers at AMEC and West Valley, and researchers at the University at Buffalo.”

The 3-foot-wide treatment wall at West Valley stretches for 860 feet and extends as much as 30 feet below ground. The installation contains more than 2,000 metric tons of zeolite that captures strontium-90 through a process known as “sorption.”

Through his research, Rabideau first demonstrated in 1999 that zeolite, composed primarily of the volcanic mineral clinoptilolite, would be suitable for groundwater remediation at West Valley. Later, he worked with Seneca to test the zeolite sorbent and use supercomputers to predict how long a zeolite treatment wall would remain effective.

“From an environmental standpoint, the zeolite barrier should effectively protect the Great Lakes watershed from West Valley groundwater without consuming substantial energy for operation and maintenance,” Rabideau says.

The 2011 Ground Water Remediation Award will be presented at the 2011 National Ground Water Association Ground Water Expo and Annual Meeting, being held Nov. 30 in Las Vegas.

Reader Comments

Robert Baier says:

Great work by Alan Rabideau and his team! It would be worthwhile to have this "nuclear technology-capable" group consult on worthy and regionally beneficial secondary uses of the WNY Nuclear Research Center building --now sitting empty on the UB South Campus-- before executing an earlier-announced costly demolition contract to tear it down.

Posted by Robert Baier, Professor, Industry/University Center for Biosurfaces, 11/07/11