U-M Receives Nuclear Reactor Corrosion Funding


The U.S. Department of Energy has reportedly awarded $7.5 million to engineering researchers at the University of Michigan for research into how reactors can withstand the effects of radiation, corrosion and other stressors. The funding is reportedly meant for several projects as a part of the DOE’s Integrated Research Projects program.

According to the release, the project that recieved the most amount of funding at $3 million aims to speed up the advanced nuclear reactor licensing process by building a tool that gives companies the data needed for design approval. 

About the Research

The release states that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission reportedly requires extensive data about how new reactors will operate over time, up to 20 years. Companies reportedly need to show that the parts of the reactor can survive radiation and other stressors. However, currently, reactors are reportedly slow, expensive and not very available.

As an alternative solution to this issue, the U-M team states that they will shoot atomic nuclei at the material to create a predictive tool for advanced reactor companies to use so they can show how well their core materials can withstand “decades’ worth of radiation damage.”

“Ion irradiation is not only faster, in terms of days vs. years, and cheaper—thousands vs. millions of dollars—it also does not require special handling or disposal issues, and advances in ion irradiation techniques and simulation and modeling have established the technique as a viable substitution for reactor irradiation,” said Gary Was, professor emeritus of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences, who leads the project.

Additionally, four projects have reportedly received $1 million each by the Nuclear Energy University Partnerships Program (NEUP), including:

  • A tool for engaging communities on the clean energy transition. Aditi Verma, assistant professor of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences with the U-M Fastest Path to Zero Initiative, will lead a survey of communities in New Mexico exploring views on clean energy, nuclear energy and a just energy transition;
  • Real-time impurity detection. Sodium-cooled fast reactors have meltdown-proof designs and could run on spent fuel from our current fleet of water-cooled reactors. Milos Burger, assistant research scientist in nuclear engineering and radiological sciences, will lead a team that will work to develop better sensors to monitor impurities in sodium-cooled fast reactors;
  • Determining how radiation degrades reactor components. Stresses in nuclear reactors—including radiation, pressure and heat—can change the shape of components. A team led by Field will develop a quick and cost-effective method to test materials under different cyclic stresses and varying heat conditions during ion irradiations; and
  • Ultrasonic imaging to assess reactor parts. A team led by Serife Tol, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, will work to develop advanced ultrasonic imaging to look for such defects so that these parts can be approved.

The release states that an additional $500,000 from NEUP was given to a project that will help nuclear scientists and technologists “prepare for the quantum revolution,” stating that algorithms that work on current computers reportedly will not work on quantum computers.

While others are reportedly already at work on how to stimulate fluids with quantum computers, neutrons—particles that trigger fission in nuclear reactors—need attention. A team led by Brian Kiedrowski, associate professor of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences, will now reportedly begin to encode the behaviors of neutrons in a format that quantum computers can understand.

Other U-M contributors include Kevin Field, associate professor of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences and Emmanuelle Marquis, professor of materials sciences and engineering. The project also reportedly includes collaborators at the University of Tennessee, Pennsylvania State University, Prairie View A&M University, Texas A&M University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Idaho National Laboratory and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

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In April, an assistant professor from Penn State University received a $400,000 research and development award from the U.S. Department of Energy to study corrosive damage caused by salt in nuclear salt reactors. 

FeiFei Shi from the John and Willie Leone Family Department of Energy and Mineral Engineering was awarded funding from the Nuclear Energy University Program.

According to PSU, nuclear salt reactors offer benefits such as higher efficiency and less waste, compared to traditional reactors that require solid fuel. Additionally, the International Atomic Energy Agency suggests that there is a growing international interest in the process for sustainable clean energy transition.

However, corrosiveness caused by the molten salts can affect reactor reliability, along with high maintenance costs. Overcoming this corrosion is reportedly one of the primary challenges preventing further adoption of the energy source.

The research team will reportedly use a mixture of emerging electrochemistry models in combination with reviving methods used in the 1950s to observe the interfacial phenomena. Factors such as penetration depth and magnification levels will be needed to find the molecular “sweet spot” on the models.

The university said that Shi hopes the team’s observations of the unpredictable, buried surface will lead to more accurate simulations. Additionally, Shi foresees that the foundational knowledge gained by this study will have a long-lasting impact, potentially leading to breakthroughs beyond nuclear energy applications.

The DOE has reportedly awarded more than $24.3 million through NEUP to support 38 university-led, nuclear energy research and development projects in 21 states last year. The NEUP seeks to maintain U.S. leadership in nuclear research across the country by providing schools with opportunities to develop innovative technologies and solutions for civil nuclear capabilities.


Tagged categories: Colleges and Universities; Corrosion; Corrosion protection; Environmental Control; Environmental Controls; Funding; Grants; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Infrared radiation; NA; North America; Nuclear Power Plants; Program/Project Management; Research; Research and development; U.S. Department of Energy

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