2014 Research Report

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“We are trying to improve the current systems so they will be safer, more simple and more economical,”
- Fatih Aydogan, assistant professor

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Faith Aydogan

Powering Nuclear Technology

Idaho Falls Engineering Professor Improves Designs for Small Reactors

By Tara Roberts
Photo courtesy of the Center for Advanced Energy Studies

A common nuclear power plant costs billions of dollars, thousands of tons of material and years of construction to complete.

Fatih Aydogan, an assistant professor in the University of Idaho College of Engineering’s Nuclear Engineering Program in Idaho Falls, is studying much smaller nuclear reactors that have greater potential for affordability, reliability and safety.

Aydogan and his graduate students study small modular reactors, or SMRs, which have an energy output of less than 300 megawatts electrical, in contrast to the average large reactor’s 1,000 MWe output. Small reactors are growing in popularity worldwide, and the U.S. Department of Energy has increased support for their use in the United States in recent years.

Aydogan’s team focuses on improving standard SMR designs.

“We are trying to improve the current systems so they will be safer, more simple and more economical,” says Aydogan, who conducts research at the Center for Advanced Energy Studies (CAES), an Idaho Falls-based research center that brings together the UI, Boise State University, Idaho State University and the Idaho National Laboratory.

One aspect of his team’s research is studying how to downscale reactor design so an SMR can be manufactured whole at an outside facility and shipped to the site where it will operate.

“If we decrease the size, we can also decrease the capital cost,” Aydogan says.

Aydogan and his students also are investigating safety systems for SMRs, which can be easier to manage than traditional nuclear plants, reducing the potential for large-scale accidents. One method to increase safety is using passive safety systems.

“Passive safety means that in the accident conditions, such as an earthquake or a tsunami, the reactor can shut down itself by using the basic nature of physics, such as gravity. Emergency water-cooling systems could run by gravity rather than pump to make the system passive,” Aydogan says.

SMRs also have the potential to be placed underground. If terrorists want to crash an airplane into the reactor, there will be no reactor over the ground, Aydogan say.

Aydogan also is developing computational tools to analyze SMRs and other nuclear reactors to better understand how efficiently nuclear systems work during nuclear accidents and abnormal events as well as how components, especially new designed components, within a reactor interact with each other for various operating conditions and scenarios.

Before he came to the UI, Aydogan studied SMRs for Westinghouse-Toshiba. The company will soon use one of his designs, for which he recently published a patent, for its SMRs. Aydogan says his team at CAES will continue partnering with nuclear industry leaders to conduct research and transfer technology.