Junior researchers showing world the way to advanced nuclear fuel design

August 18, 2014 by Nicole Stricker, US Department of Energy
Junior researchers showing world the way to advanced nuclear fuel design
Dr. Melissa Teague, an INL materials engineer, pioneered advanced microscopy on irradiated nuclear fuel.

Two early-career researchers at DOE's Idaho National Laboratory are earning international attention for their groundbreaking work. They're getting a long-sought look into the 3-D microstructure of irradiated nuclear fuel, and then feeding that data into cutting-edge fuel behavior models. Their work will make the design and testing of even safer nuclear fuels more informed and efficient.

The distinctive collaboration stemmed from a fertile environment at the Department of Energy's lead laboratory for nuclear energy research and development. That environment enabled an engineer and a computational scientist to easily work hand-in-hand toward a common goal. Their collaboration is noteworthy "because computer people and experimental scientists don't tend to interact much," said Michael Tonks.

Tonks is an INL computational materials scientist who built a model of nuclear fuel microstructure. Melissa Teague is an INL materials engineer doing first-of-a-kind microscopic studies on nuclear fuel. Her work is helping refine his models and capturing attention from international scientists.

"We've had people from all over the world coming and asking, 'How do you do this?'" she said.

The intrigue centers around microscale glimpses of irradiated fuel, which researchers have long pondered but never seen in 3-D. Such information will lead to a more fundamental understanding of how irradiation affects nuclear fuel safety and performance.

INL has singular capabilities that enabled Teague to perform a common microanalysis technique on an uncommon material: irradiated nuclear fuel.

Electron Backscatter Diffraction (EBSD) shoots electrons at the surface of a material sample. Electrons that encounter atoms in the material scatter to form patterns on a detector screen. Skilled crystallographers interpret the patterns to reconstruct the atomic structure and glean insights.

"These were the first 3-D characterizations of irradiated fuel reported anywhere in the world," Teague said. "Before, no one really knew what it looked like in 3-D."

Around the time Teague was pioneering advanced microscopy on irradiated fuel, Tonks was developing a new model to simulate how irradiation changes on the microscopic level. Early versions of his MARMOT code incorporated limited published data about the texture of irradiated fuel, but made many assumptions.

Tonks started looking for research data that could fill in some of those gaps. He quickly learned of the work being done by Teague, whose desk he could walk to in less than a minute. The two applied for Laboratory Directed Research and Development funding and recruited an EBSD reconstruction expert.

The data they collected provided several important insights, such as revealing how solid particles form, grow and migrate along crystal boundaries inside the fuel during irradiation. It enabled modelers to replace assumptions in the code with real-world information, and also allows simulation outcomes to be compared with real-world data to ensure the model yields accurate predictions.

Explore further: Researcher uses code to test nuclear fuels

Related Stories

Researcher uses code to test nuclear fuels

June 24, 2014

When friends ask Idaho National Laboratory researcher Blaise Collin what his job entails, he compares his scientific simulation work to operating a flight simulator.

Understanding of radiation damage LEAPs forward

April 5, 2012

A faint nightclub beat greets visitors to a small room housing the Localized Electron Atom Probe (LEAP). But that’s no stereo cranking out house music; it’s a rhythmic pump cooling a tiny sample to more than 220 ...

Experiment enters next stage at new Idaho hot cell

June 2, 2014

To the average eye, the experimental specimens don't look like much: silver-colored squares about the size of a domino. But the samples represent several big milestones for Idaho National Laboratory, the Department of Energy ...

Reactor fuel behavior better understood with phonon insights

August 5, 2014

(Phys.org) —Nearly 20 percent of the electricity in the United States is generated by nuclear energy from uranium dioxide fuel, but mysteries still surround exactly how the material controls the electrical production: Poor ...

Uranium crystals could reveal future of nuclear fuel

June 25, 2013

Mention the word "crystals" and few people think of nuclear fuel. Unless you are Eric Burgett. The Idaho State University professor is on a quest to create pure, single crystals of uranium and uranium oxide so researchers ...

Recommended for you

Nanoscale Lamb wave-driven motors in nonliquid environments

March 19, 2019

Light driven movement is challenging in nonliquid environments as micro-sized objects can experience strong dry adhesion to contact surfaces and resist movement. In a recent study, Jinsheng Lu and co-workers at the College ...

OSIRIS-REx reveals asteroid Bennu has big surprises

March 19, 2019

A NASA spacecraft that will return a sample of a near-Earth asteroid named Bennu to Earth in 2023 made the first-ever close-up observations of particle plumes erupting from an asteroid's surface. Bennu also revealed itself ...

The powerful meteor that no one saw (except satellites)

March 19, 2019

At precisely 11:48 am on December 18, 2018, a large space rock heading straight for Earth at a speed of 19 miles per second exploded into a vast ball of fire as it entered the atmosphere, 15.9 miles above the Bering Sea.

Revealing the rules behind virus scaffold construction

March 19, 2019

A team of researchers including Northwestern Engineering faculty has expanded the understanding of how virus shells self-assemble, an important step toward developing techniques that use viruses as vehicles to deliver targeted ...

Levitating objects with light

March 19, 2019

Researchers at Caltech have designed a way to levitate and propel objects using only light, by creating specific nanoscale patterning on the objects' surfaces.


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.