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Nuclear energy research attracts $3.35M in DOE funding

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently awarded nearly $64 million for advanced nuclear energy technology to DOE national laboratories, industry, and 39 U.S. universities in 29 states.

Researchers from The Ohio State University College of Engineering will lead four projects and collaborate on another, resulting in $3.35 million in total funding.

“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.

Nuclear Engineering Professor Carol Smidts and Assistant Professor Marat Khafizov, Welding Engineering Professor Antonio Ramirez, and Nuclear Engineering Faculty Emeritus Tom Blue are leading four collaborative projects. Nuclear Engineering Professor Tunc Aldemir also is a key collaborator in a DOE-funded project led by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Associate Professor Hyun Gook Kang.

With $1 million in funding, Blue’s multi-institutional team will develop an optical fiber-based gamma thermometer and demonstrate its use in university research reactors, such as Ohio State’s Nuclear Reactor Laboratory. Data from the thermometers will help evaluate a reactor’s power density distribution. Collaborators include Texas A&M University and Idaho National Laboratory.

Smidts’ team received $800,000 to build a first-of-its-kind framework for integrating big data capability into the daily activities of the nation’s current fleet of nuclear power plants. The framework will be designed to extract timely information on equipment performance and enable optimization of plant operation and maintenance. Collaborators include Purdue University, Idaho National Laboratory, Framatome and First Energy.

Also receiving an $800,000 award, the project Ramirez is leading will evaluate and develop a set of tools to repair and mitigate chloride-induced pitting and stress corrosion cracking in stainless steel nuclear fuel canisters. In addition, the team will assess technologies that have not yet been evaluated for used nuclear fuel applications, including vaporizing foil actuator welding and soldering. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Fluor Corporation, DNV GL, Titanium Brazing Inc., and Electric Power Research Institute are collaborating on this material degradation and aging management research.

The Khafizov-led team received $500,000 to investigate the impact of irradiation damage on the degradation of aluminum nitride, a candidate material for use as an in-pile sensor in nuclear reactors. In collaboration with Idaho National Laboratory and Missouri S&T, the study will measure a combination of piezoelectric, dielectric and elastic properties in-situ during irradiation.

Smidts attributes Ohio State’s success in this latest round of funding to its established expertise in risk, reliability, instrumentation and controls. She said that in addition to advancing U.S. nuclear energy efficiency, safety and security, the new research collaborations will benefit the university’s Nuclear Engineering Program, which she directs.

“Our leadership in these important, innovative projects also will expand our program’s impact and reach,” said Smidts, “especially in terms of attracting new graduate students and faculty.”

In total, DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy selected 89 projects for funding for nuclear energy research, facility access, and crosscutting technology and infrastructure development. The awards are dispersed under three DOE nuclear energy programs: the Nuclear Energy University Program (NEUP), the Nuclear Energy Enabling Technologies (NEET) program, and the Nuclear Science User Facilities (NSUF) program.

Ohio State researchers also are part of a new consortium focused on developing nuclear power plant control systems that utilize artificial intelligence. Led by North Carolina State University, the team has received a nearly $3.4 million federal grant from DOE’s ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Administration-Energy) program to bolster its efforts. Smidts is overseeing one of the consortium’s four thrust areas, Nearly Autonomous Management and Control (NAMAC) System Technical Components Development.