Zahra Mohaghegh Leads Industry-Focused Scientific Innovation for Probabilistic Risk Assessment


Susan Mumm

Zahra Mohaghegh Leads Industry-Focused Scientific Innovation for Probabilistic Risk Assessment

Zahra Mohaghegh, seated center, and her SoTeRiA Research Laboratory
Zahra Mohaghegh, seated center, and her SoTeRiA Research Laboratory
 Increased competition and fluctuations in the commercial electric sales market have renewed focus on using risk-informed approaches for developing safe and cost-effective operational strategies for nuclear power plants.

Addressing this issue and in collaboration with industry partners, Zahra Mohaghegh, professor in Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering and director of the Socio-Technical Risk Analysis (SoTeRiA) Research Laboratory, has established the Grainger College of Engineering SoTeRiA Industry Affiliates Program (IAP) for large-scale and cost-shared industry projects.

One of SoTeRiA-IAP’s initial research thrusts is developing realistic models for Fire Probabilistic Risk Assessment (PRA) to help increase realism in risk estimations for the nuclear industry. This thrust is supported by a $1M project (2019-2021) with the South Texas Project Nuclear Operating Company (STPNOC) as part of the Department of Energy’s U.S. Industry Opportunities for Advanced Nuclear Technology Development Program.

Since coming to NPRE in 2013, Mohaghegh has drawn upon her expertise as a risk scientist and experience as an entrepreneur to develop courses in PRA and establish SoTeRiA research entities. Mohaghegh and her research team have focused on the advancement of PRA for complex technological systems, specifically for nuclear power plants, pioneering three key areas of scholarly development:

  • the spatiotemporal coupling of physical failure mechanisms with human/social performance and the incorporation of this coupling into plant PRA using the Integrated PRA (I-PRA) methodology
  • the incorporation of big data analytics into PRA
  • the integration of safety risk and financial risk.

These three areas have been realized in several of SoTeRiA’s research projects and publications.

Mohaghegh serves as the Principal Investigator of a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant (2015-2020) for big data analytics in PRA, a DOE Nuclear Energy University Program (NEUP) grant (2017-2020) for Enterprise Risk Management (ERM), and a second DOE NEUP grant (2019-2022) for advancing the I-PRA algorithm for the deployment of new technologies. She also serves as a Chief Scientific Investigator and representative of the United States for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Coordinated Research Project (2018-2021) for assessing pipe failure rates in advanced water-cooled reactors.

Partnering with the STPNOC from 2013 to 2017, Mohaghegh contributed to developing an I-PRA approach for the risk-informed resolution of Generic Safety Issue 191 (GSI-191), which is related to the performance of the emergency core cooling system (ECCS) following a loss of coolant accident (LOCA). Mohaghegh provided academic oversight on technical reporting to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards (ACRS). Her work on this and other projects established her reputation as a leader of industry-focused scientific innovation for risk analysis.