Dale Ensor, an emeritus chemistry professor at Tennessee Tech University, was recently recognized for his work by the federal Department of Energy.
Ensor and his fellow members of the Salt Waste Disposal Technologies Team received a 2013 Secretary’s Honor Award earlier this month in Washington, D.C. Their work was part of a larger effort by scientists and engineers from Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Chemical Separations Group and other contractors to remove radioactive cesium from the Savannah River Site.
“This has been one of the success stories for environmental management in terms of the cleanup for Savannah River,” Ensor said. “It was used to treat millions of gallons of waste and when they get the plant up and running, it will work well.”
The site was home to weapons manufacturing during the Cold War and has several large underground tanks full of radioactive materials. The tanks are difficult to monitor and, because of their age, may be prone to leaking.
Ensor and his team of two students, Erica Stoner and Talon Hill, helped to create a process that will remove the cesium from the other materials in the tanks and embed them in large glass rods that can be more safely stored.
Stoner graduated with her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from TTU in 2010. Hill received his bachelor’s degree in 2011 and a master’s in 2013, both from TTU’s chemistry department.
The team’s work is also poised to save billions of dollars in cleanup costs. Though they finished work on the Savannah River project, the processes the group developed may be adaptable to other sites that contain radioactive wastes.
Ensor joined the TTU faculty in 1978 and, in his time at the university, has been awarded more than $1.2 million in contracts and grants from federal and private agencies. He has been a visiting scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory and Los Alamos National Laboratory. Many of his students have worked with him on projects for those labs.