Ohio State secures $2.55M to advance nuclear energy research

Posted: July 11, 2016


Salem Nuclear Power Plant in New Jersey
Salem Nuclear Power Plant [ Photo: Peretz Partensky/Flickr, http://go.osu.edu/BXnX ]

Nuclear engineering researchers at The Ohio State University were recently awarded a total of $2.55 million from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for nuclear energy research and infrastructure upgrades.

Four Buckeye engineering faculty members received grants as part of DOE’s more than $82 million investment in nuclear energy research, facility access, crosscutting technology development and infrastructure awards in 28 states.

Carol Smidts, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, will receive $800,000 to develop methods and a prototype tool to determine if abnormal nuclear power plant events are cyber-security or safety incidents. The researchers will also develop operational procedures for responding to cyber-security events, as little research or response guidance currently exists.

“Safety and cyber-security events can actually, at least on the surface, look the same,” said Smidts. “But the way you would react to them is quite different because in one case you have systems that are failing naturally, whereas in the other case the event is stimulated by a person with ill intention.”

Her collaborators are Quanyan Zhu, New York University; Indrajit Ray, Colorado State University; Timothy McJunkin, Idaho National Laboratories; and Jason Hollern, AREVA.

Jinsuo Zhang, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, will receive a $800,000 grant to develop optimized metallic fuel alloys to improve the performance of traditional fuels for fast nuclear reactors, while reducing or eliminating problematic chemical interactions. The findings will be added to an existing computer model to enhance its ability to predict the performance of metallic fuels.

His collaborators include Michael Short, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Michael Benson, Robert Mariani and Yongfeng Zhang, Idaho National Laboratory.

Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Professor Xiaodong Sun will receive $480,000 to help develop a data-driven methodology for validating advanced computer models used in nuclear power plant safety analysis, specifically for flooding hazard and system thermal-hydraulics analyses.

Led by Nam Dinh, North Carolina State University, the integrated research project includes additional collaborators from North Carolina State University, Purdue University, George Washington University, Idaho National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Structural Integrity Associates Inc., ANATECH, Centroid PIC Inc. and Zachry Nuclear Engineering Inc.

Sun will also receive $240,000 to generate experimental data to help validate the advanced modeling of the two-phase phenomena that affect fuel rod cooling and integrity. The findings will be used to better model and simulate nuclear reactor performance during normal operation and perform more accurate accident analysis.

“Our ultimate goal is to better quantify the safety margins of the reactor to improve its safety and economics,” said Sun. “Currently we have several reactors being shut down prematurely because they just cannot compete economically.”

Sun’s team will conduct experiments in his lab in Scott Laboratory to supply data as well as take their advanced instrumentation system to Virginia Tech’s experimental facilities to help with data acquisition.

Spearheaded by Yang Liu at Virginia Tech, additional collaborators on the project include Adrian Tentner and Elia Merzari, Argonne National Lab; and Yixing Sung, Westinghouse Electric Company.

Thomas Blue, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and director of Ohio State’s Nuclear Reactor Laboratory, will receive a $230,000 grant on behalf of the laboratory to replace the existing reactor control-rod drive system of the university’s Research Reactor with a modern system that will help maximize its availability. The upgrade will help ensure ongoing operations meet the needs of education and research for both the university and DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy.

In total, 93 projects were selected to receive funding that will help push innovative nuclear technologies toward commercialization and into the market.

“Nuclear power is our nation’s largest source of low-carbon electricity and is a vital component in our efforts to both provide affordable and reliable electricity and to combat climate change,” said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. “These awards will help scientists and engineers as they continue to innovate with advanced nuclear technologies.”

by Candi Clevenger, College of Engineering Communications, clevenger.87@osu.edu