McMaster researcher has concrete idea for SMRs

October 20, 2023, 12:01PMANS Nuclear Cafe
McMaster University’s Ousmane Hisseine is investigating how novel concrete materials can make SMRs safer. (Photo: McMaster University)

Ousmane Hisseine, an assistant professor of civil engineering at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, is using his expertise in concrete infrastructure in hopes of improving the safety of small modular reactors.

Concrete materials are used as the ultimate physical barrier in nuclear facilities, whether as a containment structure shielding the nuclear reactor during operation or as interim storage for spent fuel.

The work: Hisseine and a research group at McMaster will work on a novel type of concrete material coined DT-RS-UHPC, for damage-tolerant radiation-shielding ultra-high-performance concrete.

According to Hisseine, DT-RS-UHPC is characterized by an intrinsically dense microstructure, ultra strength, and exceptional energy absorption capacity. It also is highly damage tolerant, almost impervious to deteriorating agents such as sulfates from the soil, and has remarkable resilience against freeze-and-thaw cycles, he added. For instance, DT-RS-UHPC’s dense microstructure and the tailored selection of its ingredients play a critical role in propelling higher attenuation capacity against both gamma and neutron radiation.

“In the long term, the project sets a novel paradigm for nuclear containment structures and dry casks, namely, DT-RS-UHPC containment structures with higher safety functions, compared to containment structures made from conventional concrete,” Hisseine said. “This will support both SMR safeguard and SMR waste management, both of which are critical aspects for SMR deployment.”

Backing: Hisseine is one of four McMaster researchers to receive the NSERC-CNSC Small Modular Reactors Research Grant Initiative, established by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and focused on supporting SMRs.

“My NSERC-CNSC funding for SMR research will be used to develop novel concrete materials needed for improved safety in SMR nuclear facilities to ensure the safety of workers, the environment, and the public,” said Hisseine.

The university: McMaster, which is known as Canada’s nuclear university, is home to the country’s most powerful research reactor. The reactor first became operational in 1959 and was originally designed to operate at a maximum power of 1 MW. It was upgraded in the 1970s to its current rating of 5 MW. It is an open-pool materials test reactor with a core of low enriched uranium fuel that is moderated and cooled by light water.

Canadian stats: Nuclear energy supplies 15 percent of Canada’s power demand—and about 60 percent of the energy demand in Ontario—and contributes to cutting more than 50 million tons of carbon dioxide annually in the country.