LOGAN – Engineering professors at Utah State University recently received $5.8 million in Nuclear Energy Research Grants. Most will go toward <span>research of accident-tolerant nuclear fuels, but</span> $800,000 of that will be put to work done by Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering professor Barton Smith.
Smith, who will work closely with Texas A&M professor Mark Kimber, will be focused on advancing computer models that predict what happens to reactors in an accident scenario.
Smith said he will take the computer code and perform experiments to verify how closely it represents reality. The focus will be on electrically-powered compressors that drive gas through the reactors. He will be studying where the generated heat will go if power to the compressors is suddenly lost.
“If all of a sudden the flow shuts down, the heat doesn’t have anywhere to go,” he said. “That is what the simulations are aimed at, and it is very critical they are accurate up to the first few minutes of this event. If they’re not you can end up with a very bad answer as to what is going to happen, either one that underestimates or overestimates the severity of the accident.”
Smith said he nuclear reactors to be studied aren’t the water-cooled reactors found in the United States today, but rather gas reactors that most likely won’t be found commercially for another 20 years.
“This work is aimed at a new generation called gas reactors, and they will be very different in how they work,” he said. “One of the advantages of gas reactors over the old-style water reactors is they can be much hotter and because they are hotter you can do things with them other than make electricity. You can separate oxygen from hydrogen. If you want to have a hydrogen car that’s where you get the hydrogen.”
The work is expected to last three years. Smith said using computer models to do the testing is much less expensive than how things used to done.
“The way that people used to do what I’m doing is they would build a nuclear reactor and they would punch holes in it and measure everything,” he said. “For reasons, probably obvious, we don’t like doing that anymore. That’s why they do these tests like the one I’m doing, a little bit smaller and don’t involve any nuclear fuel.”