Nanomaterials Researcher Working to Improve Nuclear Efficiency

Jul 19, 2010
A microscopic photo image shows contour lines denoting stress near a propagating crack on the surface of a nuclear fuel rod.

(PhysOrg.com) -- With renewed attention being given to nuclear power, a UT Dallas researcher has snagged an $875,000 Department of Energy (DOE) grant to explore a means to boost power plant efficiency and reduce nuclear waste.

It’s the biggest research grant yet within the University’s young Mechanical Engineering Department.

Dr. Hongbing Lu, a expert and the first holder of the Louis Beecherl Jr. Chair in mechanical engineering at the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, will simulate the cracks that form in the metal-alloy surface, or cladding, of nuclear fuel rods. These cracks - which develop in the stressful reactor environment of tremendous heat, corrosion, irradiation and pressure - are microscopic in size but can cause a reduction in the fuel burn-up rate, decreasing power station efficiency and increasing .

“We’re working on a very general simulation methodology that can be applied to that kind of environment,” Lu said. “It’s more than just crack growth. We need to understand how the material behaves under extreme pressure, temperature, corrosion and . With the methodology we’re using, we’re taking all of those factors into consideration and incorporating material behaviors into some mathematical models to describe them under very complicated conditions.”

Lu and his team will generate data about the effects of pressure and temperature, factoring in DOE information about fission and other labs’ information about the effects of corrosion.

“Once we’ve gathered all of the information on nuclear fuel cladding in that environment, then we’ll be able to plug it all into a simulation code and develop a better understanding of how quickly the cracks grow,” Lu said. “At that point we can go beyond the simulations and begin working on actual materials tested in the government labs.”

The ultimate goal is to use the results to come up with a better fuel-cladding material, but the work should have application in a variety of other areas as well.

“The same simulation methodologies we’re developing can be applied to other parts of a station,” Lu said. “Take the pressure vessels, for instance. The environment may not be as extreme as in the fuel cladding - the temperature and radiation may be lower - but, overall, the two environments are very similar. And if you remove the radiation, you can apply the methodologies to other high-pressure environments such as engines.”

Despite lingering concerns by the public about the safety of nuclear power plants even decades after the Three-Mile Island and Chernobyl nuclear accidents, the planet is in the midst of what has been called a nuclear renaissance, especially in China and India. Lu hopes to assuage people’s concerns.

“With the use of modern technology, nuclear energy is really safe,” Lu said. “It’s quite different from many decades ago. The nuclear physics has already been figured out. Other things are dictating the efficiency of the fuel burn-up. You need people from all disciplines. My contribution has to do with the mechanics and materials aspects of the nuclear fission process.”

Energy is one of the primary issues society has to deal with right now, he added, noting that alternatives to fossil fuels are desperately needed.

Explore further: Graphene and diamonds prove a slippery combination

Related Stories

Energy - More bang for the buck

Aug 13, 2004

Spent nuclear fuel from commercial reactors could be minimized and burn-up potentially doubled if Gamma Engineering's new silicon carbide-based cladding proves viable. Conventional cladding, the tubing that contains the enriched ...

Sustainable nuclear energy moves a step closer

Dec 11, 2006

In future a new generation of nuclear reactors will create energy, while producing virtually no long-lasting nuclear waste, according to research conducted by Wilfred van Rooijen, who will receive his Delft University of ...

GE and Hitachi want to use nuclear waste as a fuel

Feb 18, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- One of the world's biggest providers of nuclear reactors, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (a joint venture of General Electric and Hitachi), wants to reprocess nuclear waste for use as a fuel in ...

Recommended for you

Graphene and diamonds prove a slippery combination

May 25, 2015

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory have found a way to use tiny diamonds and graphene to give friction the slip, creating a new material combination that demonstrates ...

Artificial muscles get graphene boost

May 22, 2015

Researchers in South Korea have developed an electrode consisting of a single-atom-thick layer of carbon to help make more durable artificial muscles.

How to make continuous rolls of graphene

May 21, 2015

Graphene is a material with a host of potential applications, including in flexible light sources, solar panels that could be integrated into windows, and membranes to desalinate and purify water. But all ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

PPihkala
5 / 5 (1) Jul 20, 2010
Stop talking of Chernobyl happenings as an accident. It was gross negligence to try to run unauthorised tests in the middle of the night, with inadeguate staffing and fail safe systems forced off. And then someone is surprised that something blew up. Equivalent is to drive in pitch dark with your car all lamps turned off. When, not if, you hit something, do you consider it an accident?

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.