International leaders convene at Penn State to map future of nuclear power

Research launched at the event supports continued safety, efficiency in existing and future reactors around the world

International delegates from the United Nation’s committee, the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development Nuclear Energy Agency met at Penn State on July 1, 2019. Credit: Tyler Henderson / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – To continually support the safety and efficiency of the world’s power supply, international leaders in nuclear safety and regulation convened at Penn State on July 1 to establish and guide an upcoming research project to be conducted in the Department of Mechanical Engineering (ME).

Fan-Bill Cheung, the George L. Guillet Professor of Mechanical Engineering and professor of nuclear engineering who also holds the position as the director of the Global Nuclear Power Safety Center, presided over the meeting, aimed at providing input on his research project, “Advanced Reflood Thermal-Hydraulics for Uncertainty Resolution” (ARTHUR).

Recently funded to ME by the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), under the direction of the United Nation’s committee, the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development-Nuclear Energy Agency, this project will perform reflood tests, emergency cooling mechanisms deployed during potential instances of failure in a nuclear power plant, to provide experimental and code evaluations. The NRC relies on the functions of these computer codes to control these critical safety functions and provide standards to maintain fuel efficiency.

A five-year, $4.3 million project, the code evaluations derived in ARTHUR will add additional security to currently operating nuclear reactors and help prevent incidents like those that occurred in Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, in the future. In addition, these code validations will also support the high standard of safety needed to create the advanced reactors of the future.

“When the NRC licenses a new reactor, the most important issue is to make sure it’s safe under all operating conditions,” Cheung said. “This work will provide important experimental data to support their licensing effort.”

A critical feature of an emergency shutdown, the underlying code that triggers reflood tests must be precise and forward-thinking. This is where ME contributes its expertise. As a historical leader in nuclear energy and security, Penn State’s Applied Research Laboratory and ME commands the only facility in the world capable of this experimental work, the Rod Bundle Heat Transfer Test Facility.

Harnessing a facility capable of reflood simulation experiments with more than 20 years of successful operation, advanced instrumentation and vast faculty expertise, Penn State is poised as an international leader in this area.

“With our unique capabilities and contributions, we are able to help promote the safe operation of nuclear power plants and advance their use around the world,” Cheung said.

The results of this experiment will be submitted to the NRC, who will be responsible for disseminating the appropriate information to the 11 international partners participating.

“This work will be extremely useful for any nation that uses nuclear power; however, our data will solely be sent to the NRC, who acts as a liaison for the international community,” Cheung said.

Looking to the future, this critical, foundational work will help support the safety and sustainability of the world’s power supply.

“Nuclear energy is a great source of clean energy. It won’t pollute the air or the water, as long as no accidents occur,” Cheung explained. “Safety is the key issue and this data will help the computer code maintain safety.”

Last Updated August 12, 2019