The United States has about 100 commercial fission reactors producing approximately 19% of our electricity and more than 50% of our low-emission electricity. Our nuclear systems engineering research programs are largely devoted to advancing the state-of-the-art in technologies used to produce electricity from fission. Some of our key programs are described below.
If we are to have a viable commercial nuclear energy fleet and strive to continue to improve upon efficiency, safety, economics and performance of nuclear reactors, we must be able to understand the behavior of a reactor under all operating conditions. Professors Corradini, Duarte and Anderson have extensive experience modeling reactors and reactor components from a fluids heat transfer and thermodynamics perspective as well as conducting experiments that validate the models.
As simulation takes a larger role in the development of nuclear technology, there is a need to improve the fidelity and complexity of the simulations. With a focus on radiation transport and nuclide inventory tracking—and coupling these to other domain physics—Professors Wilson, Henderson and Lindley are delivering new simulation capability by combining modern computational science technology with new solution methodologies. These tools are being used to design complex systems like ITER, to improve radiation treatment planning, to understand and improve next-generation reactor designs, and to explore the science-policy boundary of advanced fuel cycles.
Nuclear power has traditionally functioned best as a large baseload generator. However, as the share of variable renewables in the energy mix increases, and deep reductions in carbon emissions are targeted, nuclear energy must play an increasingly flexible role. Professors Lindley, Wilson, and Corradini perform research on the integration of nuclear and renewable energy, the use of nuclear energy to generate heat as well as electricity, and the deployment of novel reactors in new markets. This includes development of computational tools that are used to inform what is feasible and cost-effective; and development of new system concepts that open up new markets for nuclear energy and synergize with renewables.
Many advanced nuclear fuel cycles rely on technologies that could be diverted for non-peaceful applications. Designing safeguards for declared facilities and detection mechanisms for undeclared facilities can help support an international nuclear non-proliferation regime that has been largely successful at stemming the expansion of nuclear weapons. Professor Wilson uses a combination of modeling, simulation, and data science to better understand the opportunities to secure advanced nuclear fuel cycle facilities of the future.