Department of Energy Invests $64 Million in Advanced Nuclear Technology

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has announced nearly $64 million in awards for advanced nuclear energy technology to DOE national laboratories, industry, and 39 U.S. universities in 29 states. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has been awarded $800,000 for analysis of nuclear power plants’ accident propagation and mitigation processes.

“Because nuclear energy is such a vital part of our nation’s energy portfolio, these investments are necessary to ensuring that future generations of Americans will continue to benefit from safe, clean, reliable, and resilient nuclear energy,” said Ed McGinnis, DOE’s principal deputy assistant secretary for nuclear energy. “Our commitment to providing researchers with access to the fundamental infrastructure and capabilities needed to develop advanced nuclear technologies is critical.”

The award is part of the DOE’s Nuclear Energy University Program (NEUP), which aims to maintain U.S. leadership in nuclear research across the country by providing top science and engineering faculty and their students opportunities to develop innovative technologies and solutions for civil nuclear capabilities.

As a result of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011, new safety upgrades for existing Light Water Reactors (LWRs) are being developed, which include Accident Tolerant Fuel (ATF) and diverse and flexible coping strategies (FLEX). These safety features are expected to extend a plant’s coping time and mitigation capability in an accident.

The Rensselaer project, titled “Coping Time and Cost Analysis of Accident Tolerant Plant Design Based on Dynamic PRA Methodology,” is aimed at the systematic operation strategy development based on dynamic response analysis in consideration of FLEX and ATF upgrades of nuclear power plants. This framework can extend to be used at any additional safety enhancement in the future.

Hyun Gook Kang, associate professor of mechanical, aerospace, and nuclear engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, is the principal investigator. Collaborators include Tunc Aldemir, Ohio State University; Youhoo Lee, University of New Mexico; and Jin Kyun Park, Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute.

“Both FLEX and ATF are expected to extend the accident coping time in nuclear power plants, thanks to FLEX’s additional emergency response capability and ATF’s enhanced performance against oxidization under a higher temperature steam environment,” said Kang. “However, they may introduce new failure mechanisms and associated uncertainties which were less investigated. The awarded research is aiming at the evaluation of the coping time variation under uncertainties in accident mitigation in nuclear power plant. The result will contribute to the development of new accident mitigation strategy of nuclear power plants under extreme conditions such as natural disasters.”

According to Kang, in order to capture the variation of realistic accident propagation and mitigation processes, the timeline dynamics of plant and critical components need to be analyzed. “This accident analysis will result in a very large number of plant response types which must be managed with the systematic uncertainty treatment. Dynamic risk assessment, human error database, ATF failure criteria assessment, and big data response surface models will be utilized,” he said.

Kang joined the nuclear program at Rensselaer two years ago. His research group’s recent focus is developing the safety measures by utilizing the mega data of dynamic plant assessment and the digitalized nuclear power plants based on risk-informed design. This NEUP fund will support the first part. The second part is currently supported by Korean Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP) and the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI) under a $700,000 research contract.