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UW School of Energy Resources Names Nuclear Energy Research Center Co-Directors

December 20, 2021
Caleb Hill and Tara Righetti

The University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources (SER) has selected UW’s Tara Righetti and Caleb Hill as co-directors for the new Nuclear Energy Research Center (NERC) of Excellence.

Tasked with driving organization efforts at UW on nuclear, Righetti and Hill will build upon their existing areas of expertise, interpersonal networks and nuclear research projects to stand up the research center.

“SER’s centers of excellence fill an import gap in finding energy solutions,” says Scott Quillinan, SER senior director of research. “Oftentimes, a professor’s niche interest can play a vital role in advancing the directive of finding energy solutions in Wyoming. By offering our support and standing up a new center of excellence, we can focus resources to help build capacity in nuclear energy research.”

Representing both the social sciences and hard sciences, the duo will work together to manage research efforts among the campus community, and lead collaborative partnerships with national labs and external stakeholders to advance nuclear energy engagement in Wyoming.

Righetti, an SER professor of law, is an expert in energy law and policy. Her research focuses on policy and regulation related to energy systems, including raw fuel production, generation, industrial decarbonization, energy justice and climate governance.

Righetti has been engaged in nuclear-related research at UW, serving as the lead investigator for UW’s engagement in the Emerging Market Analysis (EMA) initiative. The EMA initiative is an interdisciplinary and multi-institution collaboration involving researchers from Idaho National Laboratory (INL), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Michigan, the University of Alaska and Boise State University.

Through her efforts, she has expanded the reach of the project to other social science faculty members on campus and developed relationships with nuclear energy researchers and key personnel in academia, government agencies, industry, nuclear energy think tanks and national laboratories.

“Nuclear energy development includes important environmental, economic, social and local dimensions, which are key to designing sustainable, regionally equitable and high-value approaches to meet the state’s net-zero emissions goals,” Righetti says. “I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Professor Hill to expand UW’s nuclear energy research capacity.”

Hill, an assistant professor in the UW Department of Chemistry, brings expertise to the technical functions of the center. At UW, he leads a research group focused on the development of electrochemical systems for applications in energy conversion/storage, catalysis and separations.

He is one of the few researchers at UW who maintains active research programs in the field of nuclear science and engineering. His work in this area explores different chemical and electrochemical approaches to the extraction and separation of f-block elements, which play a critical role in production, recycling and remediation of nuclear fuels.

Hill’s work on f-block element separations is carried out in collaboration with INL and supported by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). His team continues to aggressively pursue additional funding from the Office of Nuclear Energy at the DOE to secure key infrastructure to support the establishment of a radiochemistry program at UW.

“While nuclear energy has not traditionally been a focus area for researchers at UW, there are a large number of talented scientists and engineers here who can address challenges associated with the development of new nuclear fuel cycles, reactors or advanced materials,” Hill says. “A major goal of NERC will be to consolidate this expertise that exists at UW and form interdisciplinary teams to tackle these problems.”

With Righetti and Hill joining forces, they will play a critical role in unifying UW’s existing efforts related to nuclear technology and positioning Wyoming for success with the renewed focus on nuclear energy.

“Under Tara and Caleb’s leadership, it is our hope that NERC will serve as a valuable resource to the state, lead efforts on nuclear-focused capacity building and further expand energy-focused work at UW and with our collaborators,” says SER Executive Director Holly Krutka.

In addition to participating in discussions with other partners and stakeholders, the co-directors will be responsible for the preparation of a five-year strategy for research and engagement for the center and support capacity building at UW through leading a colloquium series.

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