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Insuring safety in future nuclear power systems

A research project to help ensure the safety of future nuclear power systems is being awarded $940,000 funding for a three-phase project under the Department of Energy's Nuclear Energy Research Initiative. The NERI program supports innovative, investigator-initiated research and development to advance next-generation nuclear technologies. Only 13 out of 145 projects were selected to receive funding.

The project, On-Line Nondestructive Evaluation for Advanced Reactor Designs, will receive $300,000 for the first phase slated to start October 1. Norio Nakagawa, a physicist at the IPRT Center for Nondestructive Evaluation, will lead the research team that includes R. Bruce Thompson, CNDE director; Feyzi Inanc, engineer; and collaborators from Westinghouse Electric.

"Energy sources for the future is a very timely topic, and we are excited to be working with one of our corporate sponsors to examine ways to ensure safety in the design of new energy systems," says Thompson, who also is director of Ames Lab's Nondestructive Evaluation Program. This project links Ames Lab and CNDE expertise in research of inspection systems with the practical perspective of a company that is on the cutting edge of nuclear reactor technology, he explains.

The goal for the next generation of nuclear energy systems is to enhance them in the areas of economics, safety, reliability and sustainability for use worldwide by the year 2030. One of the characteristics of the new systems is an extended refueling interval. This presents maintenance challenges because inspections are typically planned for when the reactors are off-line due to the regular refueling schedule.

"Our project is to develop sensor systems to implant into the nuclear power system itself to continuously monitor the structural integrity while the system is operating," Nakagawa says.

Nondestructive evaluation advanced measurement techniques, including electromagnetic, ultrasonic and radiation detectors, will be used in the monitoring system. As the system concept is developed, the researchers will use physics-based simulation models to evaluate and characterize performance. These models will provide information essential to designers as they develop and modify plans for the next generation of nuclear reactors, according to Nakagawa.

For more information about the NERI program, including links to the awards list and abstracts, go to http://neri.ne.doe.gov/ .


by Mary Jo Glanville


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