At the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaigh, nuclear energy researchers are finding ways to take fuel and energy production into the future. Strong social, political, and scientific support to move away from fossil-fuel consumption has resulted in a new vision for next-generation nuclear energy sources. Toward this vision, two grants have been awarded to NPRE researchers by the Department of Energy, totaling over $1.5 million through the Nuclear Energy University Program.
Small-scale nuclear reactors can provide a viable solution to decarbonizing energy generation, but appropriate markets must be identified to propel large-scale production of these reactor systems. That is the focus of one NPRE-led project that has received a grant by the U.S. Department of Energy.
Associate professor Caleb Brooks is the principal investigator on the two-year project “Evaluation of micro-reactor requirements and performance in an existing well-characterized micro-grid,” which was awarded $800,000, with professors Kathryn Huff and Tomasz Kozlowski collaborating.
The objective of the proposed work is to quantify the opportunities and challenges of operating micro-reactors in established micro-grids with diverse power generation sources. To this end, this project will develop the analysis capability for a diverse range of applications using software tools developed within Idaho National Laboratory’s Hybrid Energy System (HES) group.
Using a well-characterized prototypic environment, the MOOSE and Modelica-based HES platform will be demonstrated in detail for a focused set of near-term micro-reactor applications. “Basically, we will use the campus energy data as a test bed to develop modeling tools and evaluate the market potential for micro-reactors in existing microgrids,” Brooks said.
The second project is being led by Professor Brent Heuser, in collaboration with researchers from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Westinghouse Electric Corp.
The primary objective of the proposed research project is to study the effect of surface microstructure, mechanical stress factors, and dpa (displacement per atom) damage on the corrosion response of stainless steel under two different alkaline PWR primary water alkalinizing agent chemistry conditions. The team will investigate mechanical stress factors such as strain rate, residual stress, deformation induced persistent slip bands (PSBs), dpa damage, and fatigue cracks.
“We have access to an upgraded ion accelerator at UIUC that will allow us to perform bombardment studies with high-energy metal ions and protons to mimic fast neutron damage,” Heuser said. “Modeling will help us understand the physical phenomena associated with the measured corrosion response.”
“The team assembled for this proposal encompasses all experimental and computation aspects of the stated RC-9 work scope to understand the effect of LiOH→KOH change on the corrosion behavior of stainless steel. The industrial partnership with WEC will allow us to shape the work scope specifically to the needs of the U.S. nuclear industry while ORNL adds computational materials science and corrosion expertise.”