Mimicking nuclear reactor damage is goal of $5 M grant

Sep 27, 2013
In the Michigan Ion Beam Laboratory at the University of Michigan, researchers will test whether ion beams can replicate the damage nuclear reactor components sustain over decades of use. Credit: Joseph Xu

A new $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy will enable University of Michigan engineering researchers to advance the understanding of how radiation damages nuclear reactor components.

The work could enable engineers to predict when and how components in nuclear power reactors will wear out, which would help them to keep reactors running safely and efficiently. It could also speed up the testing of tougher new materials for advanced reactor.

The researchers will determine how well damage from ion beams in the laboratory mirrors the actual damage that reactor components sustain during decades of service. An ion beam is a beam of electrically charged atoms, accelerated with electric fields.

"If we're going to build advanced reactors or operate today's reactors beyond their license lifetimes, we need to solve some materials problems," said Gary Was, the Walter J. Weber Jr. Professor of Sustainable Energy, Environmental and Earth Systems Engineering, who heads the project. "France, Britain, Russia, Japan, they all have the same concern—how do materials behave at these very high radiation doses?"

The collaboration comprises national laboratories, industrial partners and universities in the U.S. and overseas, with about $9 million in funding from all sources.

Today, researchers don't have an efficient way to mimic the that current reactor components have sustained or the high damage expected in advanced reactor designs. It would take current test reactors 10 to 20 years to simulate those effects. But ion beams can reach a similar in just a few days.

"The benefit is a huge reduction in time and cost that will enable much faster development of materials for nuclear reactors," Was said.

But is that damage the same?

"That is the million-dollar question," he said.

The collaboration is counting on a new 'triple beam' facility at U-M to provide answers. The sample is held in a chamber that can recreate the temperature and pressure conditions inside a reactor and hit with three ion beams.

One beam will bombard the test material with atoms that match its composition, for instance, iron atoms on a steel alloy. This produces most of the structural changes. At the same time, the two other accelerators hit the material with hydrogen and helium, small atoms that are produced inside reactor components. As they accumulate, these atoms can cause bubbles to form inside the material and make it more susceptible to cracking.

Meanwhile, matching samples will be exposed to radiation in an advanced fast reactor in Dimitrovgrad, Russia. By comparing the microscopic structural changes in the beam-damaged and reactor-damaged materials, the collaboration will attempt to identify a method for faithfully reproducing reactor damage with .

Explore further: Team improves solar-cell efficiency

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Japan nuclear-free as last reactor switched off

Sep 16, 2013

Japan went nuclear-free on Monday as it switched off its last operating reactor for an inspection, with no date scheduled for a restart amid strong public hostility to atomic power.

Making industrial plasma safer

Sep 18, 2013

(Phys.org) —EPFL scientists have uncovered the physics behind the formation of plasmoids – funnel-like, high-energy plasmas that can severely damage industrial plasma reactors, causing millions in repairs ...

CASL milestone validates reactor model using TVA data

Jul 10, 2013

Today, the Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors (CASL) announced that its scientists have successfully completed the first full-scale simulation of an operating nuclear reactor. CASL ...

SHARP could slash nuclear reactor design costs

Nov 16, 2012

Back in the earliest days of nuclear energy, Argonne physicists and engineers used slide rules and their own basic knowledge of reactions and physics to design nuclear power plants. Then, beginning in the ...

Recommended for you

Team improves solar-cell efficiency

Sep 19, 2014

New light has been shed on solar power generation using devices made with polymers, thanks to a collaboration between scientists in the University of Chicago's chemistry department, the Institute for Molecular ...

Calif. teachers fund to boost clean energy bets

Sep 19, 2014

The California State Teachers' Retirement System says it plans to increase its investments in clean energy and technology to $3.7 billion, from $1.4 billion, over the next five years.

Idealistic Norwegian sun trappers

Sep 19, 2014

The typical Norwegian owner of a solar heating system is a resourceful man in his mid-fifties. He is technically skilled, interested in energy systems, and wants to save money and protect the environment.

User comments : 0