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UW-Madison engineers receive $2.8M in DOE nuclear research awards

The U.S. Department of Energy recently awarded more than $24.3 million through its Nuclear Energy University Program (NEUP) to support university-led nuclear energy research and development projects, including a total of $2.8 million for projects led by University of Wisconsin-Madison engineers.

UW-Madison is the lead institution for four of the 38 research and development projects awarded funding in 2022. NEUP seeks to maintain U.S. leadership in nuclear research across the country by providing top science and engineering faculty and their students with opportunities to develop innovative technologies and solutions for civil nuclear capabilities.

With this new funding, UW-Madison continues to be highly successful in earning NEUP awards. In 2022, the UW-Madison-led projects make up more than 10% of the number of awards and more than 10% of the funding.

Photo of Kumar Sridharan
Kumar Sridharan

Kumar Sridharan (PI), Grainger Professor in the engineering physics and materials science and engineering at UW-Madison, received $800,000 for his proposal, “Development of advanced control rod assembly for improved accident tolerance and high burnup fuel cycle.” The researchers will focus on the development of new material designs for control rod sheaths and neutron absorbers, coupled with neutronics analysis and thermo-mechanical modeling, to improve accident tolerance and to achieve higher fuel burnup in light water reactors. UW-Madison Engineering Physics Associate Scientist Hwasung Yeom is a collaborator on the project, along with researchers from Idaho National Laboratory and Westinghouse Electric Company.

Yafei Wang (PI), an assistant scientist in the UW-Madison Department of Engineering Physics, received $400,000 for his proposal, “Optical basicity determination of molten fluoride salts and its influence on structural material corrosion.” The researchers aim to develop ion probes to determine the optical basicity of molten fluoride salts and study its influence on structural material corrosion. Collaborators include UW-Madison Engineering Physics Associate Professor Adrien Couet and Simerjeet Gill of Brookhaven National Laboratory.

Yafei Wang
Yafei Wang

UW-Madison Engineering Physics Assistant Professor Ben Lindley (PI) received $800,000 for his proposal, “Open architecture for nuclear cost reduction.” Open architecture has potential to reduce advanced reactor costs, through exploiting modular design and construction, with common, openly available interfaces between modules. The researchers will perform a comprehensive assessment of the challenges and opportunities of open architecture for advanced reactors. And they will perform a specific pilot study on the application of this methodology to nuclear coal retrofit at Kemmerer, Wyoming. The researchers will develop actionable recommendations that can be taken forward by the advanced reactor community, and a proof-of-concept method that can be built upon by the industry. Collaborators on the project include Awad Hanna, Boldt Company Professor in Construction and Engineering Management in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UW-Madison, as well as researchers from the University of Wyoming, UC Berkeley, Idaho National Laboratory and TerraPraxis.

Aerial view of repowering coal platform
UW-Madison will partner with TerraPraxis, among others, on nuclear reactor open architecture, collaborating with and building on ideas developed by TerraPraxis and Bryden Wood to repower existing coal plant infrastructure. Image courtesy of: TerraPraxis and Bryden Wood.
Photo of Ben Lindley
Ben Lindley

Lindley (PI) also received $800,000 for his proposal, “Telescopic control rod for significant reduction in HTR height and therefore cost.” This project proposes a design for a small modular high temperature reactor control rod that extends telescopically. This compact component substantially reduces the length of the depth of the silo and therefore could offer a major cost benefit. The researchers aim to develop the telescopic control rod to the point of being technically feasible and licensable, through a multidisciplinary design study encompassing theoretical and experimental work. Collaborators on the project include EP Associate Professor Adrien Couet, and researchers from Framatome, X-Energy and Idaho National Laboratory.

In addition, UW-Madison Engineering Physics Assistant Professor Yongfeng Zhang is a collaborator on a University of Florida-led project that aims to understand hardening in reactor pressure vessel steels caused by manganese and nickel rich precipitates via integrated multiscale modeling and experiments.

And Wisconsin Distinguished Professor Emeritus Michael Corradini is a collaborator on a Massachusetts Institute of Technology-led project that aims to investigate near term opportunities of accident tolerant fuels for light water cooled small modular reactors design spaces.

UW-Madison researchers are also collaborators on three of the seven Integrated Research Projects (IRPs) awarded funding in 2022. IRPs are multi-million dollar, three-year projects executed by university-led consortiums that typically include multiple universities, industrial and international research entities, and the unique resources of the DOE National Laboratories. These projects address well-defined but highly complex technical issues impacting key Office of Nuclear Energy mission objectives.

UW-Madison Mechanical Engineering Associate Professor Mark Anderson is a collaborator on a University of Michigan-led IRP that will provide scientific understanding to optimize the diffusion bonding process to be used in creating compact heat exchangers. UW-Madison Engineering Physics Assistant Scientist Mohamed Elbakhshwan and mechanical engineering research assistant Ian Jentz are also collaborators on this project.

UW-Madison Engineering Physics Department Chair Paul Wilson, the Grainger Professor of Nuclear Engineering, is a collaborator on an ambitious University of Oklahoma-led IRP. The researchers will develop and empirically evaluate a new approach to consent-based siting of interim storage facilities for spent nuclear fuel that features a socially led engineering design process that gives members of the public, community leaders, and stakeholders in host communities an opportunity to co-design the facility they are being asked to host. The process will be a collaborative engagement between community representatives and project engineers, with both groups learning from each other as they jointly pursue an effective siting process for interim storage facilities. Dominique Brossard, professor and chair in the Department of Life Sciences Communication at UW-Madison, is among the collaborators on this project.

Izabela Szlufarska, Harvey D. Spangler Professor of Engineering and chair of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at UW-Madison, is a collaborator on a UC Berekley-led IRP that aims to improve understanding of the role of impurities and fission products on the operational performance of molten salt reactors as well as potential impact on accident scenarios.

UW-Madison was also awarded one of the 20 awards for research reactor and infrastructure improvements. UW Nuclear Reactor Director Robert Agasie (PI) received $55,495 to acquire a radiation tolerant underwater camera with pan, tilt, zoom capabilities to enhance safety and ensure regulatory compliance at the University of Wisconsin Nuclear Reactor and associated Characterization Laboratory for Irradiated Materials (CLIM).