Argonne National Laboratory

Department of Energy supports Argonne nuclear technologies

December 5, 2017

By Jordi Vasquez

This fall, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Rick Perry announced nearly $4.7 million in funding for DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory across 16 projects in three divisions. The award is part of DOE’s Technology Commercialization Fund (TCF), designed to “mature promising energy technologies with the potential for high impact.”

“This new funding shows the breadth and depth of Argonne’s Energy and Global Security directorate.” - Jeff Binder, Associate Laboratory Director for Energy and Global Security

Four of those TCF awards, representing more than $1 million in funds, are slated for Argonne’s Nuclear Engineering division. The awards will support:

  • Technology that diagnoses performance problems in nuclear power plants
  • Technology to increase natural convection in advanced reactors
  • An analytical capability to improve the safety of next-generation lead-cooled fast reactors (LFRs)
  • Improvements in code acceptability to expedite the approval process for sodium-cooled fast reactors (SFRs)

“This new funding shows the breadth and depth of Argonne’s Energy and Global Security directorate,” said Jeff Binder, Associate Laboratory Director for Energy and Global Security. “The awards highlight the ingenuity of our world-class researchers and demonstrate the laboratory’s ability to help bring new nuclear energy technologies to market.”

The four projects include:

Advanced physics-based fluid system performance monitoring to support nuclear power plant operation

An Argonne team led by Rick Vilim, senior nuclear engineer, is seeking to speed commercialization of a technology that detects and diagnoses performance-related problems in the thermal-hydraulic systems of nuclear power plants. The technology eliminates the need for fault diagnosis by humans, which is time consuming and prone to errors, by using comparable automated sensors. Vilim and his team expects the technology - known as Parameter-Free Reasoning Operator for Automated, Identification and Diagnosis (PRO-AID) - to reduce costs and increase efficiency by spotting any faults early so they can be fixed.

To make PRO-AID commercially available, the team must first move from a simulation-level to a pilot-level environment. The team also needs to improve PRO-AID’s software and algorithms so Argonne’s partners in industry can understand and apply the code.

Argonne will work on this project with LPI, Inc., an engineering consulting company that offers extensive expertise in the area of fluid systems. LPI will provide a team of engineers familiar with power plant engineering to work with Argonne experts on the project.

Passive, high efficiency ventilation for the dracs and other natural circulation systems

Nuclear engineers view natural circulation as one of the more promising ways to remove decay heat from the reactor core in future advanced reactors. For these air-based cooling systems, engineers need an effective chimney design to ensure that air flows naturally and adequately in all weather conditions. An Argonne team led by Darius Lisowski, nuclear engineer, seeks to commercially develop a unique patent-pending invention that addresses this challenge. Argonne’s invention not only protects against wind and rain, but it also addresses several areas that existing chimney caps do not.

The technology has already passed laboratory tests. Now, the team plans to integrate the chimney cap design into the direct reactor auxiliary cooling system (DRACS), a passive decay-heat removal system developed by General Atomics for its Energy Multiplier Module (EM2) Small Modular Reactor concept. This project is poised to create significant market impacts due to the prevalence of chimney systems across industries and the nuclear industry’s recent focus on natural systems to remove passive decay heat.

The team will collaborate with General Atomics to test and evaluate the technology. The team will also examine its performance in real-world accident and abnormal operating scenarios.

During the proposed partnership, nuclear engineers will focus on experimental testing and will examine the chimney cap design to see how it will perform when installed along with the DRACS and within the EM2 reactor building. 

Joint development of SAS4A code in application to oxide-fueled lfr severe accident analysis

Argonne is collaborating with Westinghouse Electric Company to expand the reach of its safety analysis software, known as SAS4A. It is part of Argonne’s suite of software that, through simulation, helps make sure these next-generation nuclear reactors are safe, sustainable and secure. SAS4A currently helps nuclear engineers analyze very rare, multiple-failure accidents in liquid-metal-cooled reactors.

The project will expand applicability of SAS4A to lead-cooled fast reactors, a next-generation nuclear technology with significant safety and economic potential. It is led by Tanju Sofu, the program manager for advanced modeling and simulation in Argonne’s Nuclear Engineering division. By expanding SAS4A’s use to LFRs, Sofu’s team expects to help overcome a significant licensing barrier to deployment of this promising technology.

To apply the code to lead-cooled fast reactors, the team will need to revise SAS4A to allow modeling of these reactors’ fuel and coolant system characteristics and unique phenomena involved in accidents with fuel failures. Westinghouse will work with the Argonne team to apply the code to the company’s specific LFR design. Sofu expects nuclear engineers to use the new SAS4A models to also analyze a broader spectrum of lead- or lead-bismuth-eutectic-cooled fast reactor design tracks.

NRC qualification of advanced reactor safety analysis software

When obtaining a commercial license for a nuclear reactor from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, one must show that the codes and methods used for safety analyses are acceptable. To improve this process and facilitate the use of the U.S. Department of Energy’s resources, a team at Argonne, led by Nuclear Engineer Acacia Brunett, is addressing the need to qualify advanced reactor safety analysis software; and in particular, the systems-level liquid-metal analysis tool SAS4A/SASSYS-1.

While software qualification needs can vary with each vendor’s design, this project will address the critical characteristics common to most domestic sodium-cooled fast reactor designs. As part of this process, the Argonne team will identify and, more importantly, document relevant capabilities and features of SAS4A/SASSYS-1 to meet modern regulation’s state-of-the-art qualification requirements.

The team will work extensively with SFR industry members such as TerraPower and GE-Hitachi to obtain feedback and develop a pedigreed analysis tool that meets industry’s needs. The project’s ultimate goal is to reduce applicants’ typical licensing burden and to help SFR modeling and simulation capabilities mature and widen their acceptability within the nuclear industry.

The TCF awards are supported and managed by DOE’s Office of Technology Transition.

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation's first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America's scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.

The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit the Office of Science website.