Hydrogeologist appointed to federal nuclear waste board

September 28, 2012

University of Wisconsin-Madison hydrogeologist and Nelson Institute affiliate Jean Bahr has been appointed by President Obama to the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board.

UW-Madison professor Jean Bahr
The board is charged with providing independent scientific and technical oversight of the U.S. Department of Energy's program for managing and disposing of radioactive waste, from high-level waste and spent nuclear fuel to low-level waste such as that generated through research and medical procedures.

Bahr and seven other new members of the 11-person board were sworn in yesterday (Sept. 27) in Washington, D.C. for four-year terms with possibility of a single four-year renewal. Appointees were nominated by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences and selected by the White House.

A professor of geoscience at UW-Madison, Bahr studies the underground movement of water and contaminants. "The most likely pathway by which radioactive waste would reach humans and the environment would be by movement of groundwater, by contaminants dissolving in groundwater and moving away from the site," she says.

Since a planned nuclear waste repository site near Yucca Mountain, Nevada, was eliminated from consideration in 2009, the board will likely be involved in helping the Department of Energy identify and evaluate new potential repository locations.

"[Yucca Mountain] had been the focus of the DOE's efforts in the area of high-level waste since about 1987. So we're, in a sense, back to the drawing board in terms of trying to identify what might make a suitable site — what are the geological, hydrological and other features that would make a site suitable for disposal," Bahr explains. "It's an exciting time to be getting involved in this, since the science I do is an integral part of that question."

Bahr served on the National Research Council's Board on Radioactive Waste Management from 1992 to 1997, though which she was involved in some studies of the former Yucca Mountain site. She is also a past president of the Geological Society of America and former chair of the UW-Madison geoscience department and served as a faculty co-director of the Women in Science and Engineering Residential Learning Community on campus.