Radiation studies key to nuclear reactor life, recycling spent fuel

December 30, 2005

Two UW-Madison projects to study advanced materials and fuels for current and future nuclear reactors received roughly $1 million this month under the Department of Energy Nuclear Energy Research Initiative (NERI).

The NERI program supports research and development under three Department of Energy nuclear initiatives: Generation IV nuclear energy systems, advanced fuel cycles and nuclear hydrogen.

In one three-year project, UW-Madison nuclear engineers will study the resistance to radiation damage of oxide, carbide and nitride nuclear fuel "matrix" materials-the vessels that contain nuclear fuel. A second project will exploit recent advances in computational power and technique to develop computer models of how a reactor's structural materials behave as a result of long-term radiation exposure.

The projects were among 24 selected across the country; UW-Madison was among five universities to receive funding for multiple projects.

Matrix materials are a key element of future fast-spectrum reactors, which are capable of safely and efficiently recycling spent nuclear fuel. The nuclear fission process produces high-energy radioactive neutrons, called "fast" because of their great energy. Current thermal reactors use a moderator to reduce the neutrons' velocity, making them capable of sustaining the nuclear fission reaction using simpler fuel.

But to recycle and minimize the waste impact of the spent fuel, you need to keep those neutrons fast, says Todd Allen, an assistant professor of engineering physics. He and James Blanchard, a professor of engineering physics, are researching how proposed matrix materials hold up under a barrage of radiation.

"It's all in the context of devising new fuel forms that will allow you to efficiently recycle reactor fuel in a way that minimizes the net waste output from the entire fuel cycle," says Allen. "And the reason for looking at recycle is to limit the number of underground repositories you have to build."

Another project involves applying complex materials modeling to nuclear reactors. In it, Allen and Dane Morgan, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering, will incorporate the properties of iron, chromium and nickel into more complete computer models of radiation damage in steel, a common reactor structural material.

Previously, a lack of computing power limited such models to single pure materials like copper or iron. "People have learned a lot about radiation damage," says Allen. "But you never build anything out of just copper or just iron."

The effort may lead to structural materials that are better able to withstand long-term exposure to radiation-in some cases, nearly 60 years, says Allen.

Source: University of Wisconsin

Explore further: Born-again planetary nebula

Related Stories

Born-again planetary nebula

July 28, 2015

Beneath the vivid hues of this eye-shaped cloud, named Abell 78, a tale of stellar life and death is unfolding. At the centre of the nebula, a dying star – not unlike our Sun – which shed its outer layers on its way to ...

Do auto manufacturers realise dangers of networked motors?

July 24, 2015

While computers bring great benefits they come with drawbacks too – not least, as news stories reveal every day, the insecurity of often very private data connected to the public internet. Only now that computers are appearing ...

Is your fear of radiation irrational?

July 14, 2015

Bad Gastein in the Austrian Alps. It's 10am on a Wednesday in early March, cold and snowy – but not in the entrance to the main gallery of what was once a gold mine. Togged out in swimming trunks, flip-flops and a bath ...

Recommended for you

A cataclysmic event of a certain age

July 27, 2015

At the end of the Pleistocene period, approximately 12,800 years ago—give or take a few centuries—a cosmic impact triggered an abrupt cooling episode that earth scientists refer to as the Younger Dryas.

New blow for 'supersymmetry' physics theory

July 27, 2015

In a new blow for the futuristic "supersymmetry" theory of the universe's basic anatomy, experts reported fresh evidence Monday of subatomic activity consistent with the mainstream Standard Model of particle physics.

Dense star clusters shown to be binary black hole factories

July 29, 2015

The coalescence of two black holes—a very violent and exotic event—is one of the most sought-after observations of modern astronomy. But, as these mergers emit no light of any kind, finding such elusive events has been ...

Image: Hubble sees a dying star's final moments

July 31, 2015

A dying star's final moments are captured in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The death throes of this star may only last mere moments on a cosmological timescale, but this star's demise is still quite ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.