Next-Gen Nuclear Waste Disposal Internship 
Summer 2024

Berkeley Lab (near UC Berkeley) is a world premier research institution where scientists are solving some of the world’s most challenging environmental and energy problems. 

We are committed to developing a diverse, talented workforce of next-generation scientists.


("Ingenuity" = NGenNuWaDI!)

Berkeley Lab is a leader in research and technology development to enable long-term geologic storage of nuclear waste.

The Ingenuity program is looking for bright, curious students who will spend Summer 2024 engaging in exciting research projects to address the global challenges of nuclear waste disposal in the deep geologic underground.  We strongly encourage students from underrepresented backgrounds to apply!

Projects can range anywhere from using artificial intelligence to simulate the migration of contaminants in rocks, to conducting experiments on rock samples in a lab to understand the behavior of water in clay rocks.

 To learn more, contact Sandy Chin,

Key Info

Award Amount: $10,000 plus travel supplement if > 50 miles from Berkeley Lab

Application Deadline: Friday, March 15, 2024 

Program Dates: June-Aug 2024 (9-10 weeks)

Program Location: Onsite at Berkeley Lab 

Eligibility as of Summer 2024: 


Below is a list of exciting student projects for Summer 2024 (Jun-Aug)


To be considered, interested applicants must use the application form linked above. 

Completed application forms must also include the following items attached to the form as a single pdf :

Item 1: Essay on your Research Experience (2 pages max)

Item 2: Essay on your Research Interests (2 pages max)

Item 3: Reference letters (2 minimum) from faculty members, supervisors, or mentors

Item 4: Academic transcript (unofficial is acceptable). 

Item 5: Resume / CV 


Project 1: Reactive Transport Modeling of Ion Transport in Clay Rocks                                    Mentor:  Carl Steefel (                                                Click on the down arrow to expand >>>

Through the study of Cigar Lake natural analogue, the objective is to understand the processes and mechanisms of ion transport in clay barriers and fractured rocks at spatio-temporal scales commensurate with the post-closure safety of geological disposal of radioactive waste. Measured concentrations of U, I-129 and I-127 will be available in a continuous series of core samples drilled sub-vertically around the Cigar Lake uranium ore body. 

In this project, we look for a skilled student to carry out reactive transport modeling of ion (anions and cations) transport in clay rock.   The goals are (1) to understand rates of radionuclide transport, including both uranium and iodide, at the Cigar Lake Natural Analogue in Canada, and (2) to generalize this behavior through modeling with CrunchClay to the clay-based natural barrier systems in geological waste repositories. More detailed technical goals will be based on the background and interest of the successful candidate.

Project 2: Pore-Scale Modeling of Non-Isothermal Multiphase Flow in Rock Fractures    
Mentor: Mengsu Hu (                                               Click on the down arrow to expand >>>

It is important to predict and control multiphase flow in fractures under non-isothermal conditions in a wide range of earth systems (such as geological disposal of nuclear waste, geothermal systems). For geological nuclear waste disposal, predicting and controlling multiphase fluid flow exchange between components of the multi-barrier system that may have evolving fractures with elevated temperature is the key for the long-term safety of the disposal.  

In this project, we look for a skilled student to carry out pore-scale modeling of multiphase flow that are under non-isothermal conditions. The goals are (1) to understand the mechanisms of multiphase flow in fractures that have distinct geometric features, and (2) to quantify the nonlinear and evolving permeability as a result of changes in fracture geometry and coupled thermal-hydro-mechanical-chemical (THMC) processes. Detailed technical goals will be set based on the background and interest of the successful candidate.

Project 3: Modeling of Subsurface Gas Flow and Fracturing
Mentor: Jonny Rutqvist (                                          Click on the down arrow to expand >>>

Gas flow through the Earth is critically important in subsurface engineering activities, such as nuclear waste disposal, carbon sequestration and hydrogen storage. Subsurface gas migration involves complex processes, including multiphase fluid flow with gas breakthrough, phase change expansion, pressure buildup, as well as potential gas fracturing with rapid gas release that could potentially be catastrophic. 

In this project, we look for a skilled student to conduct numerical simulations of subsurface gas flow and fracturing in low permeability geological media, such a clay host rocks. A detailed program will be designed together with the candidate depending on the candidate’s background and interest. 

Project 4: Numerical Modeling and Simulation of the Interactions of Radionuclides with Hydrated Cement
Mentor: Omotayo Omosebi (                                 Click on the down arrow to expand >>>

Cement is the main binding material in the concrete that serves as a critical component of the multi-barrier system at a deep underground nuclear waste disposal site. Radionuclides that are released from high-level nuclear wastes at these sites may be transported to the concrete, thereby interacting with the calcium-bearing minerals in cement to alter the transport properties of the concrete, eventually impacting the long term safety of the repository. 

The goal of this summer project is to use numerical models to simulate the long-term interactions of radionuclides with cement. The student will learn about the multi-barrier system in a nuclear waste repository, the chemistry of the critical component of the system, the state-of-art reactive-transport code that simulate geochemical reactions and contribute to an international collaboration project. Results will be published in reports and presented at an international meeting in the fall of 2024.

Project 5: Ab Initio Estimation of Equilibrium Constants of Uranium Bulk and Interfacial Complexation by Carbonates at Varying Temperatures and Pressures
Mentor: Piotr Zarzycki (                                        Click on the down arrow to expand >>>

The chemical speciation modeling of labile uranium species assumes chemical equilibrium between all components and derived species and that corresponding equilibrium constants are available for all relevant speciation processes at the given temperature and pressure. The available thermodynamics databases are often constrained to ambient conditions or a narrow range of temperatures. 

This project proposes to use ab initio calculations based on the density functional theory and a range of relativistic treatments to estimate how the uranium speciation equilibrium constant varies with temperatures and pressures relevant to the spent nuclear fuel repositories. The internship will provide an opportunity to learn the fundamentals of ab initio calculations and how to apply state-of-the-art codes to generate thermochemical data.

Project 6: Influence of Pore Water Chemistry on Swelling Pressure, Microstructure and Ion Transport in Compacted Clay
Mentor: Wenming Dong (                                      Click on the down arrow to expand >>>

Clayey materials are important in engineered barrier systems (EBS) for potential U.S. DOE nuclear waste repository sites. This study is to conduct laboratory experiments to determine how pore water chemistry influence swelling pressure, microstructural, ion transport in compacted clay system. The objective is to understand and predict hydro-mechanical-chemical coupling processes in clayey materials affecting permeability (ion transport) in engineered clay barriers for geological disposal of nuclear waste. 

In this project, we look for a dedicated student to carry out clay swelling and ion transport experiments. The goals are: (1) to measure the swelling pressure as a function of injecting water chemistry in compacted clay using an μ-oedometer system we developed that allows us to measure chemically- and time-resolved swelling pressure, (2) to explore how swelling pressure affect the ion transport rates by conducting flow-through experiments, and (3) to perform clay microstructural data analysis to understand the correlations of microstructure, swelling pressure and transport rate. More detailed technical goals will be based on the background and interest of the successful candidate. 

Project 7: Laboratory Study of Heterogeneous Hydration in Bentonite Pellet/Powder Mixtures: Core-Scale Column Tests with X-Ray CT Imaging
Mentor: Chun Chang (                                                  Click on the down arrow to expand >>>

Bentonite pellet/powder mixtures have been applied as an Engineered Barrier System for high level radioactive waste underground repository. The two sets of bench-scale column tests at LBNL using bentonite powder vs. pellet/powder mixture have shown considerably different hydration and swelling processes. The observed faster hydration in the pellet/powder bentonite mixture indicates the impacts of heterogeneity and potential fast flow path developed during hydration. 

In this project, you will be investigating the heterogeneous hydration in bentonite pellet/power mixtures, by preparing column samples (5 cm diameter by 10 cm long), conducting experiment, and assisting with image data acquisition and analysis. You will be introduced to the fascinating X-ray CT scanner housed at LBNL, and work on CT images obtained for scientific research, rather than medical diagnosis you may have seen. Supported by LBNL scientists, you will also have the opportunities to access to the science behind these images, dig deeper using dedicated software and develop your own code to help interpretations.

Program Contacts

Jens Birkholzer
Energy Geosciences Division Director
Earth & Environmental Sciences Area 

Liange Zheng

Nuclear Energy & Nuclear Waste Program Lead
Energy Geosciences Division
Earth & Environmental Sciences Area 

Sandy Chin

Early Career Development Lead
Earth & Environmental Sciences Area 

Lizz Mahoney

Program Coordinator
Earth & Environmental Sciences Area