Nuclear Regulatory Commission Awards Colorado State University Grants to Hire Faculty, Add Courses

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has awarded Colorado State University about $600,000 to develop a statistics course and hire a radiochemistry scientist who can track how radioactive materials move in the environment.

The grants are designed to help CSU faculty prepare graduate students in radiological health sciences for careers ranging from medical professions to geological sciences, said Professor Tom Johnson, one of four faculty members in the Radiation Protection and Measurements section of the university’s Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences department.

Experts in the field are needed particularly in Colorado, which is known for large amounts of naturally occurring minerals that are radioactive, Johnson said.

“You’re working with elements that come in small amounts and literally disappear over time,” Johnson said. “Radiation is a paradox because it can cure cancer but it can also cause cancer.

“Colorado has high deposits of thorium, radium and potassium in the natural environment.”

With the Nuclear Regulatory Commission grants, the department will hire a radiochemist who can study radioactive materials in soil, water and people, including such factors as how radioactive materials move in the environment.

Under a separate grant, Johnson is developing a statistics course for his students that will help them distinguish man-made radioactivity from naturally occurring radioactivity. Radioactive elements such as potassium 40 were created when the earth was formed and continue to exist in the environment, Johnson said.

The department, which is based in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, is also funded to develop a course on “Monte Carlo modeling,” which is a statistical method developed in the 1940s to calculate radiation doses.