Several New Projects at MIT Nuclear Reactor Lab Funded by U.S. DOE

Several New Projects at MIT Nuclear Reactor Lab Funded by U.S. DOE
Taylor Tracy, NRL

MIT’s Nuclear Reactor Lab was recently awarded research funding by the U.S. Department of Energy for three different programs.

Versatile Test Reactor Program

The U.S. Department of Energy has launched a Versatile Test Reactor (VTR) program to construct and operate a fast breeder reactor cooled by liquid sodium to provide an intense irradiation field for testing fuels and materials for advanced reactor research in the U.S. The MIT Nuclear Reactor Lab (NRL) was awarded a program to support the VTR effort by developing technology to sample the gas space in Molten Salt Reactor (MSR) experiments.

MSRs are a leading candidate for next generation reactors that have the potential to improve safety, reliability, efficiency, and economy compared to current reactors. The new MIT NRL project will develop a system to analyze various parameters in the gas coming from an MSR irradiation test. The system will be used to control and understand the behavior of the in-core experiment. Construction and initial demonstration of essential parts of the system are also planned. The project, led by Dr. Gordon Kohse (Deputy Director of Research and Services) and Dr. David Carpenter (Group Leader, Reactor Experiments) and with the participation of Guiqiu Zheng (research scientist in the Reactor Experiments Group), relies on previous experience in molten salt irradiations at the MITR and is complementary with a previously awarded program to help develop data acquisition systems for experiments in the VTR.

Nuclear Energy University Program

MIT’s Nuclear Reactor Lab (NRL) was one of the recipients of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Nuclear Energy University Program (NEUP) Awards. 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. The NRL’s awarded research aims for a first-of-a-kind engineering demonstration of an autonomous reactor control framework on a real nuclear fission system utilizing the MIT Graphite Exponential Pile (MGEP). Dr. Kaichao Sun (Group Leader of Reactor Physics Analysis and Reactor Engineer, MIT NRL) is the Principal Investigator for the proposal. Dr. Akshay Dave (Research Scientist, MIT NRL), Dr. Benjamin Baker (Research Scientist, Idaho National Laboratory), and Prof. Kord Smith (KEPCO Professor of the Practice, MIT Nuclear Science and Engineering Department) are collaborators.

Autonomous control is a key technology for developing special purpose reactors or “micro-reactors.” It supports operation of these reactors with enhanced safety and reliability under normal and abnormal (accident) conditions, and could also help lower operational costs. Compared to a full-scale research reactor, the MGEP features an inherently safe subcritical configuration and a streamlined regulatory approval process. Once established, the facility at the MGEP will become a prototype for nuclear system autonomous controls.

Nuclear Science User Facilities Rapid Turnaround Experiment

The U.S. Department of Energy Nuclear Science User Facilities (NSUF) selected a proposal from MIT’s Nuclear Reactor Lab (NRL) in its recent call for Rapid Turnaround Experiment (RTE) projects. The NRL-led project will study in-core molten salt irradiated tristructural isotropic (TRISO) particles – the proposed fuel form for the Fluoride-salt-cooled High temperature Reactor (FHR). This project will be led by MIT NRL research scientist Dr. Guiqiu (Tony) Zheng, collaborating with Idaho National Laboratory scientists Dr. Lingfeng He and Dr. Subhashish Meher, and MIT NRL scientist Dr. David Carpenter.

Nanoscale microstructural characterization of the silicon carbide (SiC) coating layer of previously irradiated TRISO particles from test in the MITR is part of an integrated research project for FHRs. NSUF’s cutting edge post-irradiation examination (PIE) facilities will allow researchers to understand how TRISO particles respond to molten salt exposure. This is a key aspect of evaluating the effects of accidents resulting in particles being released from the graphite “pebbles” in which they are normally encapsulated.