December 10, 2019

Separations Book Brings Fields Together

PNNL-led effort fills a gap between chemical, nuclear engineering

Scientist Reid Peterson shows a book about nuclear chemistry while sitting in a research lab.

A new book authored largely by staff in PNNL’s Nuclear Process Science Initiative (NPSI) could help develop next-generation nuclear researchers. “Engineering Separations Unit Operations for Nuclear Processing,” published in December 2019 by CRC Press, focuses on the processes used to separate nuclear materials and seeks to improve understanding of a field sometimes overlooked by related engineering disciplines. NPSI Lead Reid Peterson, shown here in one of the research labs in the Radiochemical Processing Laboratory, served as the book’s editor.

Andrea Starr | PNNL

A new book authored largely by staff at PNNL could help develop next-generation nuclear researchers.

The book, “Engineering Separations Unit Operations for Nuclear Processing,” expected to be of interest to academia, focuses on the processes used to separate nuclear materials and seeks to improve understanding of a field sometimes overlooked by related engineering disciplines.

Processes that separate materials from nuclear reactor products or waste streams are key to the nuclear fuel cycle and have produced critical advances in both chemical and nuclear engineering, but neither discipline really recognizes the processes involved,” says Reid Peterson, a PNNL chemical engineer.

Peterson leads PNNL’s Nuclear Process Science Initiative (NPSI), which supported development of the book, published in December 2019. Peterson served as editor, and current and former PNNL staff and one external collaborator authored chapters.

A Gap and a Solution

In the book’s preface, Peterson notes that nuclear engineering curricula often focus on the nuclear reactor itself. He adds that while chemical engineering curricula come closer to addressing separations processing, the content typically does not address the complexities that arise when dealing with highly radioactive materials. These factors, along with several others, point to a separations processing knowledge gap that resides between chemical and nuclear engineering. “This book aims to fill that gap,” Peterson writes.

The more than 300 pages of content primarily examines the development and performance of historical separation methods, some of which have largely influenced current nuclear materials processing. The book’s seven chapters address topics such as process flowsheets, uranium fuel dissolution, and non-aqueous processing.

An illustration showing the flow of the nuclear process science explained in the book.
"Engineering Separations Unit Operations for Nuclear Processing" provides insights into integrating fuel cycle and waste processing into a single, coherent approach. Illustration by Rose Perry, PNNL.

Peterson acknowledges the book likely won’t be selected reading for a night of relaxation on the couch. “The target audiences include academia, where it would be used as a text book, and perhaps researchers who work in the nuclear field,” he says. A bestseller would be nice, but Peterson is realistic in believing the tome will probably appeal to a niche audience.

How It All Began

The launch of the book traces to an American Institute of Chemical Engineers conference in 2017 when Peterson was approached by CRC Press to fill a gap in their publication portfolio. “It happened that the topical areas desired by the publisher aligned with work we’re doing in NPSI,” Peterson explains.

Peterson subsequently enlisted 10 authors. An intensive effort of writing, reviews, and editing followed, involving numerous staff at PNNL. Barbara Beller, NPSI’s project coordinator, played a key role in keeping authors and editors on track, and bringing all the pieces together.

For some who were involved, the book development process was a new adventure. Susan Asmussen, a chemist at PNNL, describes her efforts on the book as “a great learning experience.” She adds, “It was a challenge to write about separations from an engineering perspective. I’m proud of the outcome, and I hope the book serves as a good resource to those exploring the engineering side of separations.”

The document represents one of the few times that a PNNL Laboratory-Directed Research and Development-funded initiative has not only contributed a range of research findings and capabilities, but also produced a book. “As the initiative concludes in spring 2020, this document will stand as a key part of NPSI’s record of achievement,” Peterson says.


About PNNL

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory draws on its distinguishing strengths in chemistry, Earth sciences, biology and data science to advance scientific knowledge and address challenges in sustainable energy and national security. Founded in 1965, PNNL is operated by Battelle for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. DOE’s Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit For more information on PNNL, visit PNNL's News Center. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.

Published: December 10, 2019

NPSI Book Contributors

Editor R. Peterson. Authors: S. Asmussen, A.J. Casella, A.M. Casella, G. Brown, C. Delegard, G. Hall, A. Rovira, P. Schonewill, and M. Simpson. Project coordinator B. Beller. Illustrator R. Perry. Technical editor A. Pitman.