Research & Applications

Artificial intelligence could yield real advances for the nuclear reactors of tomorrow

April 9, 2021, 9:23AMNuclear NewsRichard Vilim

To build a next-generation nuclear reactor, you can teach it how to build itself

The nuclear reactors currently in operation in the United States are beginning to gray around the temples. Built decades ago using technology developed during the middle of the 20th century, these reactors have safely and reliably powered homes and businesses, but they produce waste that must be disposed of properly.

Upgrades completed at world’s only TRIGA fuel fabrication facility

April 8, 2021, 12:02PMNuclear News
The Maryland University Training Reactor, one of 12 TRIGA reactors currently operating at universities in the United States. Photo: University of Maryland

TRIGA International, the only supplier of TRIGA reactor fuel in the world, recently completed a major renovation project at its fuel fabrication facility in Romans, France. The Department of Energy, which provided both technical and financial support for the project, said the upgrades ensure the continued operation of 36 TRIGA reactors around the world, including 18 in the United States.

Webinar subject matter: Neutrinos and nuclear reactors

April 7, 2021, 9:30AMANS Nuclear Cafe
A prototype neutrino detector deployed outside Unit 2 at Dominion Power’s North Anna Generating Station in Mineral, Va. Photo: Steve Mackay, Virginia Tech

A free webinar on the subject of "The Curious History of Neutrinos and Nuclear Reactors" will be held on Friday, April 9, from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. (EDT). Registration is required.

General Atomics’ compact fusion design shows net-electric potential

April 6, 2021, 12:00PMNuclear News
The outside of the DIII-D tokamak, where testing that supports the development of the Compact Advanced Tokamak has been performed. Photo: General Atomics

Scientists at the DIII-D National Fusion Facility have published research on a compact fusion reactor design they say could be used to develop a pilot-scale fusion power plant. According to General Atomics (GA), which operates DIII-D as a national user facility for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the Compact Advanced Tokamak (CAT) concept uses a self-sustaining configuration that can hold energy more efficiently than in typical pulsed configurations, allowing the plant to be built at a reduced scale and cost.

The Natrium technology: Providing reliable, carbon-free energy to complement wind and solar

April 6, 2021, 7:00AMANS Nuclear Cafe
An artist’s rendering of Natrium. Image: TerraPower

Around the world, national and local policymakers and business leaders are making bold and ambitious commitments to clean energy goals. In the United States, one in three Americans now lives in a city or state that has committed to or has achieved 100 percent clean electricity, according to the Luskin Center for Innovation at the University of California–Los Angeles.

Research confirms ingredient in household cleaner could improve fusion reactions

April 5, 2021, 12:00PMANS Nuclear Cafe
Photos of physicist Alessandro Bortolon and the element boron; graph and photo showing the interior of a tokamak. Credit: Alexander Nagy and Alessandro Bortolon/Collage courtesy of Elle Starkman, PPPL

Research led by scientists at the Department of Energy's Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) provides new evidence that particles of boron, the main ingredient in Borax household cleaner, can coat internal components of doughnut-shaped plasma devices known as tokamaks and improve the efficiency of the fusion reactions, according to an article published on on April 2.

Road to advanced nuclear: How DOE and industry collaborations are paving the way for advanced nuclear reactors

April 2, 2021, 8:58AMNuclear NewsCory Hatch

As electric utilities rush to reduce carbon emissions by investing in intermittent renewables such as wind and solar, they often rely heavily on fossil fuels to provide steady baseload power.

More than 60 percent of the nation’s electricity is still generated with fossil fuels, especially coal-fired and gas-fired power plants that have the ability to quickly ramp up or ramp down power to follow loads on the electric grid. Most experts agree that even with a radical advancement in energy storage technology, relying exclusively on wind and solar to replace fossil fuels won’t be enough to maintain a stable electric grid and avoid the major impacts of climate change.

To complete the transition to a carbon-free energy future, one key piece of the puzzle remains: nuclear power.

NCSU to host SMR technical library with support from endowment

April 1, 2021, 9:32AMNuclear News

The North Carolina State University (NCSU) Libraries Department and the Department of Nuclear Engineering are collaborating to build a small modular reactor technical library at NCSU. The library resources will be available to the NCSU research community and to TerraPower/GE Hitachi and X-energy, both of which have signed teaming agreements with NCSU researchers to support planned advanced reactor demonstrations within the next seven years.

Making the new library collection possible: a generous donation from NCSU alumnus Stephen Rea, who together with his wife, Phyllis, formed the Stephen and Phyllis Rea Endowment for Mechanical Engineering Collections in 2015.

“We wanted to seed the endowment and grow it through donations to pursue research and development of green advanced power generation technologies,” Rea explained. “Supporting the advancement of SMR technology development fits our mission statement perfectly.”

ORNL taps ANS Fellow Icenhour as deputy for operations

March 31, 2021, 12:01PMANS Nuclear Cafe


Alan S. Icenhour, an ANS member since 2002 and a Fellow, has been named deputy for operations at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. He succeeds Jeff Smith, who is retiring this spring after serving in the role since UT-Battelle began operating the lab in 2000.

Background: Icenhour joined ORNL in 1990 as an engineer and served most recently as associate laboratory director for the Isotope Science and Engineering Directorate. He led the Nuclear Science and Engineering Directorate from 2014 until the isotopes directorate was formed in October 2020, and he has held a variety of other leadership positions as well as an assignment as senior technical adviser to the National Nuclear Security Administration.

Seismic preparation for nuclear plants: Lowering costs without compromising safety

March 26, 2021, 4:02PMNuclear NewsCory Hatch

Nuclear power plants not only provide the nation’s largest source of carbon-­free electricity, they also can operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to augment intermittent renewables such as wind and solar. Further, studies show that nuclear energy is among the safest forms of energy production, especially when considering factors such as industrial accidents and disease associated with fossil fuel emissions. All said, nuclear has the potential to play a key role in the world’s energy future. Before nuclear can realize that potential, however, researchers and industry must overcome one big challenge: cost.

A team at Idaho National Laboratory is collaborating with experts around the nation to tackle a major piece of the infrastructure equation: earthquake resilience. INL’s Facility Risk Group is taking a multipronged approach to reduce the amount of concrete, rebar, and other infrastructure needed to improve the seismic safety of advanced reactors while also substantially reducing capital costs. The effort is part of a collaboration between INL, industry, the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-­E), and the State University of New York–Buffalo (SUNY Buffalo).

GAIN vouchers connect three companies with national lab experts

March 26, 2021, 12:15PMNuclear News

The Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) announced that three nuclear technology companies—Radiant, Oklo, and Lightbridge—will receive GAIN nuclear energy vouchers to accelerate the innovation and application of advanced nuclear technologies. The second set of Fiscal Year 2021 awards was announced March 25.

DOD narrows field of Project Pele microreactor contenders

March 25, 2021, 9:29AMNuclear News

After funding one year of microreactor engineering design work by three teams, the Department of Defense (DOD) announced on March 22 that it has exercised contract options for two of those teams—led by BWXT Advanced Technologies and X-energy—to proceed with development of a final design for a transportable microreactor. Following a final design review in early 2022 and the completion of environmental analysis, one of the two companies may be selected to build a prototype reactor during a 24-­month construction and demonstration phase.

“We are thrilled with the progress our industrial partners have made on their designs,” said Jeff Waksman, Project Pele program manager. “We are confident that by early 2022 we will have two engineering designs matured to a sufficient state that we will be able to determine suitability for possible construction and testing.”

U.S. Navy researchers dive into cold fusion debate

March 24, 2021, 9:30AMANS Nuclear Cafe

Scientists at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Indian Head Division, have pulled together a group of Navy, Army, and National Institute of Standards and Technology labs to help try and settle the debate over low-energy nuclear reactions (LENRs), reports IEEE Spectrum, the flagship magazine of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Sometimes referred to as cold fusion, the science of LENRs has been debated since 1989, when Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann published the results of experiments in which they claimed to have generated nuclear energy using a simple, room-temperature tabletop setup involving palladium and heavy water. Subsequent experiments by other researchers, however, failed to replicate their findings, heightening skepticism.

According to the IEEE Spectrum report, the labs will conduct experiments in an effort to establish if there is really something to the LENR idea, if it is just odd chemical interactions, or if some other phenomenon entirely is taking place in these controversial experiments.

2021 ARPA-E Summit to take place virtually May 24–27

March 23, 2021, 12:00PMNuclear News

Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm announced last week that the 2021 ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit, hosted by the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E), will take place May 24–27 in a fully virtual format.

The Department of Energy’s ARPA-E Summit will bring together experts from industry, investment, academia, and government to discuss some of the toughest challenges facing the energy community. The 2021 summit’s theme is “Expanding American Energy Innovation,” a nod to both the agency’s energy research and development mission and its goal to grow the energy innovation community.

According to the DOE, the virtual event will combine the most popular elements from past ARPA-E Summits with new ways to stay connected in the virtual format, including four days of main-stage speakers and panels, a virtual technology showcase for attendees to meet with and learn about ARPA-E awardees, and networking sessions and news of other new ways to stay connected virtually.

WSU students deliver nuclear safeguards designs for the NNSA

March 19, 2021, 9:30AMANS Nuclear Cafe

Meeting remotely, WSU students deliver two nonproliferation projects to NNSA and PNNL staff. Source: NNSA

In a program sponsored by the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, teams of engineering students from Washington State University designed, built, and delivered prototype equipment to address challenges encountered by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory staff in research on nuclear safeguards.

As reported on March 11 by the NNSA, two teams of WSU students presented their projects to PNNL staff during an online meeting in December 2020. One team created physical training aids for safeguards courses to demonstrate two methods of nuclear fuel reprocessing. The other team developed an enrichment monitor mounting bracket that the International Atomic Energy Agency could use to help monitor uranium hexafluoride gas in enrichment facilities.

Accelerator technologies get a boost from the DOE

March 18, 2021, 12:00PMNuclear News

The Department of Energy on March 16 announced $18 million in new particle accelerator technology funding that includes $5 million for university-based traineeships for accelerator scientists and engineers.

Accelerating solutions: Beams of charged particles are powerful tools for scientific research, and particle accelerators have also been used in medical imaging and cancer therapy, in the manufacturing of semiconductors, and as a nonchemical method of destroying pathogens and toxic chemicals.

Fission gas monitoring tool developed for molten salt reactors

March 17, 2021, 3:00PMANS Nuclear Cafe

Amanda Lines, a PNNL chemist, develops real-time monitoring tools to pave the way for faster advanced reactor testing and design. (Photo: Andrea Starr/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)

Advanced reactor development and testing could benefit from a Pacific Northwest National Laboratory innovation that combines remote, real-time monitoring of gaseous fission by-products with a software package designed with plant operators in mind, according to an article published online earlier this month.

The basics: “Real-time monitoring is a valuable tool, particularly in the development of next-generation reactors,” said Amanda Lines, a PNNL chemist. “This can help designers more efficiently and effectively design and test flow loops, mechanisms, or processes. Also, when they ultimately deploy their reactor systems, this gives operators a tool to better understand and control those processes.”

Texas A&M researchers develop new resilient alloy

March 17, 2021, 7:05AMANS Nuclear CafeLaura Simmons

Researchers at Texas A&M University have recently demonstrated the superior performance of a new oxide-dispersion-strengthened (ODS) alloy developed for use in both fission and fusion reactors.


Lin Shao, a professor in the university’s Department of Nuclear Engineering and an ANS member, worked alongside research scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and Hokkaido University to create the next generation of high-performance ODS alloys. So far, the researchers reported, the alloys are some of the strongest and best-developed metals in the field.

Details of the project were published in the February 2021 issue of the Journal of Nuclear Materials.

ORNL mines Pm-147 from plutonium by-products

March 15, 2021, 9:29AMNuclear News

Technicians use a manipulator arm in a shielded cave in ORNL’s Radiochemical Engineering Development Center to separate concentrated Pm-147 from by-products generated through the production of Pu-238. Photo: Richard Mayes/ORNL, DOE

A method developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory is allowing the Department of Energy to cull promethium-147 from plutonium-238 produced for space exploration. Under an ORNL project for the DOE Isotope Program that began last year, the lab has been mining Pm-147, a rare isotope used in nuclear batteries and to measure the thickness of materials, from the fission products left when Pu-238 is separated out of neptunium-237 targets. The Np-237 targets are irradiated in Oak Ridge’s High Flux Isotope Reactor, a DOE Office of Science user facility, to produce the Pu-238.

According to the DOE, the primary goal of the project is to reestablish the domestic production of Pm-147, which is in short supply. As a side benefit, the project is reducing the concentrations of radioactive elements in the waste so that it can be disposed of safely in simpler, less expensive ways, both now and in the future.

“In the process of recovering a valuable product that the DOE Isotope Program wants, we realized we can reduce our disposal costs,” said Richard Mayes, group leader for ORNL’s Emerging Isotope Research. “There’s some synergy.”

As Perseverance makes tracks, NASA must plan its next Mars move

March 10, 2021, 3:00PMNuclear News

NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover took its first drive on the surface of Mars on March 4, traversing 21.3 feet and executing a 150-degree turn in about 33 minutes. The drive was one part of an ongoing check and calibration of every system, subsystem, and instrument on Perseverance, which landed on Mars on February 18.

The NASA team has also verified the functionality of Perseverance’s instruments, deployed two wind sensors, and unstowed the rover’s 7-foot-long robotic arm for the first time, flexing each of its five joints over the course of two hours.

With relatively little fanfare, the functionality of Perseverance’s radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG)—assembled at Idaho National Laboratory and fueled by the decay of plutonium-238—is also being proved. It is reliably providing the power that Perseverance’s mechanical and communication systems require.