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Pursuing a practical approach to research

Pursuing a practical approach to research

Koroush Shirvan, the John Clark Hardwick Profession Development Professor within the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering (NSE), knows that the nuclear industry has traditionally been wary of innovations until they’re shown to have proven utility. Consequently, he has relentlessly focused on practical applications in his research, work that has netted him the 2022 Reactor Technology Award from the American Nuclear Society. “The award has often recognized practical contributions to the sphere of reactor design and has rarely gone to academia,” Shirvan says.

One in every of these “practical contributions” is in the sphere of accident-tolerant fuels, a program launched by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission within the wake of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi incident. The goal inside this program, says Shirvan, is to develop recent types of nuclear fuels that may tolerate heat. His team, with students from over 16 countries, is working on quite a few possibilities that range in composition and approach to production.

One other aspect of Shirvan’s research focuses on how radiation impacts heat transfer mechanisms within the reactor. The team found fuel corrosion to be the driving force. “[The research] informs how nuclear fuels perform within the reactor, from a practical viewpoint,” Shirvan says.

Optimizing nuclear reactor design

A summer internship when Shirvan was an undergraduate on the University of Florida at Gainesville seeded his drive to give attention to practical applications in his studies. A close-by nuclear utility was losing tens of millions due to crud accumulating on fuel rods. Over time, the corporate was solving the issue by utilizing more fuel, before it had extracted all of the life from earlier batches.

Placement of fuel rods in nuclear reactors is a fancy problem with many aspects — the lifetime of the fuel, location of hot spots — affecting outcomes. Nuclear reactors change their configuration of fuel rods every 18-24 months to optimize near 15-20 constraints, resulting in roughly 200-800 assemblies. The mind-boggling nature of the issue implies that plants need to depend on experienced engineers.

During his internship, Shirvan optimized this system used to position fuel rods within the reactor. He found that certain rods in assemblies were more vulnerable to the crud deposits, and reworked their configurations, optimizing for these rods’ performance as an alternative of adding assemblies.

In recent times, Shirvan has applied a branch of artificial intelligence — reinforcement learning — to the configuration problem and created a software program utilized by the most important U.S. nuclear utility. “This program gives even a layperson the flexibility to reconfigure the fuels and the reactor without having expert knowledge,” Shirvan says.

From advanced math to counting jelly beans

Shirvan’s own expertise in nuclear science and engineering developed quite organically. He grew up in Tehran, Iran, and when he was 14 the family moved to Gainesville, where Shirvan’s aunt and family live. He remembers a clumsy couple of years at the brand new highschool where he was grouped in with newly arrived international students, and placed in entry-level classes. “I went from doing advanced mathematics in Iran to counting jelly beans,” he laughs.

Shirvan applied to the University of Florida for his undergraduate studies because it made economic sense; the varsity gave full scholarships to Floridian students who received a certain minimum SAT rating. Shirvan qualified. His uncle, who was a professor within the nuclear engineering department then, encouraged Shirvan to take classes within the department. Under his uncle’s mentorship, the courses Shirvan took, and his internship, cemented his love of the interdisciplinary approach that the sphere demanded.

Having all the time known that he desired to teach — he remembers ending his math tests early in Tehran so he could earn the reward of being class monitor — Shirvan knew graduate school was next. His uncle encouraged him to use to MIT and to the University of Michigan, home to reputable programs in the sphere. Shirvan selected MIT because “only at MIT was there a program on nuclear design. There have been faculty dedicated to designing recent reactors, multiple disciplines, and putting all of that together.” He went on to pursue his master’s and doctoral studies at NSE under the supervision of Professor Mujid Kazimi, specializing in compact pressurized and boiling water reactor designs. When Kazimi passed away suddenly in 2015, Shirvan was a research scientist, and switched to tenure track to guide the professor’s team.

One other project that Shirvan took in 2015: leadership of MIT’s course on nuclear reactor technology for utility executives. Offered only by the Institute, this system is an introduction to nuclear engineering and safety for personnel who may not have much background in the world. “It’s a fantastic course since you get to see what the actual problems are within the energy sector … like grid stability,” Shirvan says.

A multipronged approach to savings

One other very real problem nuclear utilities face is cost. Contrary to what one hears on the news, one in all the most important hindrances to constructing recent nuclear facilities in the USA is cost, which today may be as much as 3 times that of renewables, Shirvan says. While many approaches reminiscent of advanced manufacturing have been tried, Shirvan believes that the answer to diminish expenditures lies in designing more compact reactors.

His team has developed an open-source advanced nuclear cost tool and has focused on two different designs: a small water reactor using compact steam technology and a horizontal gas reactor. Compactness also means making fuels more efficient, as Shirvan’s work does, and in improving the warmth exchange device. It’s all back to the fundamentals and bringing “business viable arguments in together with your research,” Shirvan explains.

Shirvan is happy in regards to the way forward for the U.S. nuclear industry, and that the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act grants the identical subsidies to nuclear because it does for renewables. On this recent level playing field, advanced nuclear still has a protracted technique to go when it comes to affordability, he admits. “It’s time to push forward with cost-effective design,” Shirvan says, “I stay up for supporting this by continuing to guide these efforts with research from my team.”


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