Research & Applications

Hydrogen: The best shot for nuclear sustainability?

December 3, 2021, 3:00PMNuclear NewsSusan Gallier

Nuclear power plants are not quick to change. So when four utilities announce they will make room for shiny new electrolyzers and consider tweaking their business model, that’s news.

Nuclear power plants can leverage the energy stored in some of the world’s heaviest elements to generate the lightest: hydrogen. That is not news, but it casts an aura of alchemy over straightforward engineering. Amid the hype, and the hope of significant federal funding, it’s worth acknowledging that hydrogen has an industrial history over 100 years old. In the potential matchup of hydrogen and nuclear power, it’s nuclear that would be the newcomer.

Neutron depth profiling technique nurtured at NIST can improve battery technology

December 2, 2021, 12:00PMNuclear News
Jamie Weaver with the neutron depth profiling instrument. (Photo: T. Barvitskie/NIST)

The newest generation of lithium-ion batteries now being developed uses thin-film, solid-state technology and could soon safely power cell phones, electric vehicles, laptops, and other devices. However, like all batteries, solid-state lithium-ion batteries have a drawback: Impedance—electrical resistance—can build up as batteries are discharged and recharged, limiting the flow of electric current.

Save the VTR!

December 1, 2021, 9:30AMANS Nuclear Cafe
Artist's rendition of the Versatile Test Reactor. (Source: DOE)

SwRI demonstrates drone autonomy technology

November 29, 2021, 9:30AMNuclear News
SwRI engineers used LIDAR point cloud data to reconstruct a high-resolution image of a facility that houses electric turbines at the nuclear power plant. 3D cubes, or voxels, on the left provide spatial information on the turbine facility. Point clouds were reconstructed to create the high-resolution image of the turbines on the right. SwRI specializes in data visualizations to identify damage and potential hazards following accidents at nuclear power plants and other hazardous facilities. (Graphic: SwRI)

During the EnRicH 2021 European Robotics Hackathon, Southwest Research Institute’s unmanned aircraft system (UAS or drone) explored and mapped the interior of a nuclear power plant, detecting radiation sources autonomously, without the aid of a human pilot.

SwRI’s UAS technology can potentially assist in life-saving search-and-rescue missions and hazardous inspections at industrial facilities and infrastructure following natural disasters and other incidents.

Countdown to fission on the moon: Candidate designs wanted

November 23, 2021, 3:00PMNuclear News
Artist’s concept of a fission surface power system on Mars. (Image: NASA)

NASA and Idaho National Laboratory have just opened a competitive solicitation for U.S. nuclear and space industry leaders to develop innovative technologies for a fission surface power system that could be deployed on the surface of the moon by the end of the decade. Battelle Energy Alliance, the managing and operating contractor for INL, issued a request for proposals and announced the news on November 19. Proposals are due February 17.

Texas A&M researchers identify key factors of radiation damage to reactors

November 22, 2021, 7:07AMNuclear News
[CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE] A comparison between MOOSE results and the analytical solutions for the fractions of point defects in an irradiated spherical Ni grain with a 500 nm radius. The grain boundary/surface at x = 500 nm is assumed perfect and neutral. (Source: From Frontiers in Materials paper "Surface and Size Effects on the Behaviors of Point Defects in Irradiated Crystalline Solids")

By using a combination of physics-based modeling and advanced simulations, Texas A&M University researchers say they have found the key underlying factors that cause radiation damage to nuclear reactors, which could provide insight into designing more radiation-tolerant, high-performance materials.

ARDP recipient Southern announces molten salt fast reactor demonstration plans

November 19, 2021, 9:29AMNuclear News
The Molten Chloride Reactor Experiment will be built at Idaho National Laboratory to demonstrate criticality in a fast-spectrum salt-cooled reactor within five years. (Image: Southern Company)

Southern Company and the Department of Energy have announced an agreement to demonstrate the world’s first fast-spectrum salt reactor in collaboration with TerraPower and a host of other participants at Idaho National Laboratory. With this announcement, at least four of the DOE’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Project awardees featuring four different coolants—helium (X-energy), sodium (TerraPower), fluoride salt (Kairos Power), and chloride salt (Southern, with TerraPower)—have announced a site and a commitment to build either a full-size demo reactor or a scaled-down experimental reactor.

DIII-D tokamak used to test spacecraft heat shield materials

November 16, 2021, 3:00PMNuclear News
A set of graphite rods was exposed to hot plasma in the DIII-D tokamak. Researchers measured the ablation behavior under extreme heat and particle flow to simulate conditions experienced by spacecraft heat shields during atmospheric entry. (Image: General Atomics)

As a spacecraft on a research mission hurtles at up to 100,000 miles per hour toward the surface of a gas giant like Jupiter, the atmospheric gases surrounding the spacecraft turn to plasma, and spacecraft temperatures increase to more than 10,000 °F.

Researchers adapt Cf-252 source for wireless data transmission

November 15, 2021, 7:01AMNuclear News
(CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE) The researchers’ experimental layout is depicted here. In (b), the neutron chopper is depicted without the mesh guard shown in (d), a photograph of the experimental layout that includes the Cf-252 source tank at left. (Composite image: Joyce, et al., “Wireless information transfer with fast neutrons,”

Swapping conventional electromagnetic radiation for fast neutrons, a team of research engineers at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom, working with the Jozef Stefan Institute of Slovenia, report that they have successfully transmitted digital information wirelessly using nuclear radiation. The researchers’ attempts to transmit words and numbers using standard ASCII code “were 100 percent successful,” according to a November 10 press release from Lancaster University. Their research will be published in an upcoming issue of Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research and is now available online.

Diablo Canyon report takeaways: California has options, and it’s time for debate

November 10, 2021, 12:02PMNuclear News

A new study by researchers from Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—An Assessment of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant for Zero-Carbon Electricity, Desalination, and Hydrogen Production—makes a compelling case that the 2018 decision to shut down California’s only operating nuclear power plants needs another look—and that revenue options could make reversing the decision not just feasible but economically attractive.

“Fast-forward three years and things have changed,” said Jacopo Buongiorno, a professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT and one of the authors of the report, during a November 8 webinar. Since the decision was made to shut down Diablo Canyon’s twin pressurized water reactors in 2024 and 2025 when their current licenses expire, the state has passed bills calling for net zero carbon emissions by 2045 and for restrictions on land use that could effectively limit solar installation sprawl. Californian’s have also experienced repeated grid reliability issues and prolonged drought conditions.

Enhanced monitoring of fuel reprocessing relies on machine learning

November 8, 2021, 9:30AMNuclear News



Two student interns at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory looking for an easier way to monitor the acidity and phosphate concentrations of a process fluid like dissolved nuclear fuel have published research on a monitoring method that provides real-time data without the need for physical sampling of the substance. Their story was published on October 27 on PNNL’s website.

Student leaders: Hope Lackey conducted pH measurement and chemical analysis research during her Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships (SULI) experience at PNNL in 2018 while she was working toward her undergraduate degree in environmental studies at the College of Idaho. Andrew Clifford, also a SULI intern and a student at the College of Idaho, partnered with Lackey between his junior and senior year, while studying for a dual bachelor’s in chemistry and math/physics.

Study finds major roles for Westinghouse microreactor in Canada

November 2, 2021, 9:30AMANS Nuclear Cafe
eVinci micro reactor core, (Illustration: Westinghouse)

A recently completed feasibility study by Westinghouse Electric Company and Bruce Power concludes that the eVinci microreactor is capable of providing cost-competitive clean energy to decentralized, off-grid markets in Canada.

INL captures one dramatic second of a fuel rod test in slow motion

October 27, 2021, 3:13PMNuclear News

Idaho National Laboratory recently released footage of a new experiment at its Transient Reactor Test Facility (TREAT) that simulates what happens to a nuclear fuel pin when it starts to overheat. Go to Twitter for the original post, or cut to the chase and watch a 14-second clip on YouTube.

NWMO, University of Guelph to use eDNA to track host site biodiversity

October 27, 2021, 9:30AMRadwaste Solutions
Research teams from the NWMO and the University of Guelph conduct eDNA sampling in the Ignace area of Ontario, Canada. (Photo: NWMO)

Canada’s Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) is working with the University of Guelph to launch a joint environmental DNA (eDNA) research program to further understand biodiversity conditions around two potential sites in Ontario for a deep geological repository for spent nuclear fuel.

Germany could save 1 billion tons of CO2 by 2045, says study

October 26, 2021, 9:31AMNuclear News

“The price of anti-nuclear psychosis (for that is what it is) will be paid by vulnerable countries and future generations who suffer the escalating damages of climate breakdown,” writes environmentalist and author Mark Lynas in the foreword to a new study, One Billion Tons: CO2 Reductions and a Faster Coal Exit in Germany. “This report puts numbers on this price to be paid for the first time—a nice round number of a billion tons.”

According to Lynas, the billion tons is the “opportunity cost” of the German government’s plan to shutter its remaining nuclear power plants by 2022 while keeping its coal plants going until 2038. (Three of those plants, Brokdorf, Grohnde, and Gundremmingen, are scheduled to close later this year.)

Protein shows potential to accelerate cancer therapy research and application

October 25, 2021, 3:05PMNuclear News
LLNL and Penn State researchers developed a new approach to study and purify medical isotopes, including actinium. (Image: Thomas Reason/LLNL)

Scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Pennsylvania State University have demonstrated that a natural protein found bonded to rare earth elements can be recovered and used as a tool to purify and effectively manage radioactive metals that show promise for cancer therapy and the detection of illicit nuclear activities.

New model improves understanding of how heat moves through fusion plasmas

October 22, 2021, 12:00PMNuclear News
Physicist Suying Jin with computer-generated images showing the properties of heat pulse propagation in plasma (Image: PPPL/Jin/Kiran Sudarsanan)

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) have developed a new model of how heat flows within plasmas. According to PPPL, the model could improve insights into the behavior of plasmas and may help engineers avoid the conditions that could lead to heat loss in future fusion facilities.

U.K. narrows in on five sites for prototype fusion power plant

October 15, 2021, 9:31AMNuclear News
Five sites have been shortlisted for the U.K.’s STEP fusion facility. (Image: UKAEA)

The United Kingdom has announced a shortlist of five sites as the potential future home of the U.K. Atomic Energy Authority’s (UKAEA) prototype fusion energy plant, the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP). A final decision on the plant’s location is to be made by the U.K.’s secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy around the end of 2022.

ITER director general hails the promise of hydrogen—in fusion

October 12, 2021, 3:18PMANS Nuclear Cafe
This June 2021 photo of ITER vacuum vessel sector #6 includes two panels of thermal shielding ready to slide into place. (Photo: ITER/Courtesy of Chang Hyun Noh)

Following a week of heightened attention to all things hydrogen preceding Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Day (October 8), Bernard Bigot, director general of the ITER Organization, published an op-ed on October 11 in The European Files, a magazine billed as an “effective work tool for European deciders.” Bigot’s article, “Hydrogen fusion: The way to a new energy future,” doubled as a fusion primer, promoting the technology as a future source of clean energy that is fueled by hydrogen and is capable of providing heat and power to produce more hydrogen.