UB leads partnership with industry and academia on nuclear reactor project

DOE-funded research to integrate seismic protection systems into nuclear power plants

Nuclear Reactor; photo from DepositPhotos

By Peter Murphy

Published June 26, 2018

Andrew Whittaker, SUNY Distinguished Professor in UB’s Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, is leading a multi-institutional initiative to reduce nuclear power plant complexity and cost by integrating seismic protection systems.

“This MEITNER project is transformational. It shifts the focus of design to the nuclear safety-related assets. This will change the design paradigm and build new knowledge - the program objectives of ARPA-E.”
Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering

Whittaker is collaborating with academic partner Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); nuclear industry partners TerraPower and X-energy; expert consultants Exponent and SC Solutions; and the Idaho National Laboratory on a project for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) entitled, Reducing Overnight Capital Cost of Advanced Reactors Using Equipment-based Seismic Protective Technologies.

All nuclear power plants are required to have a significant level of resistance to the effects of earthquake shaking, but the safety-grade nuclear equipment is generally large and routinely custom-made for each nuclear plant. Whittaker’s team will simplify plant design and standardize the equipment to drive down cost and speed construction.

“The overarching goal of this project, which involves a multidisciplinary engineering team and designers of two fundamentally different advanced reactors,” Whittaker says, “is to adapt proven seismic isolation and damping technologies to operationalize modular protective systems for safety-class equipment inside advanced reactor buildings.”

Whittaker says the researchers expect at least a 20% reduction in overnight capital cost, and a minimum 10% drop in construction time for advanced reactors if these modular systems are implemented.

The DOE allocated over $20 million in federal funds to 10 projects through its Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) program: Modeling-Enhanced Innovations Trailblazing Nuclear Energy Reinvigoration (MEITNER) teams, like UB’s, were tasked with identifying and developing innovative technologies that enable designs for lower cost and safer advanced nuclear reactors.

“This MEITNER project is transformational,” Whittaker says, “it shifts the focus of design to the nuclear safety-related assets. This will change the design paradigm and build new knowledge – the program objectives of ARPA-E.”

As part of this project, the team will also develop a cost-basis for decision making, an operational design spaces for safety-class equipment and new model-in-the-loop procedures for seismic qualification.

“The project will create US manufacturing jobs,” says Whittaker, “and this will help maintain the United States’ leadership in nuclear energy.”