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Safe Nuclear Reactors
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Safe Nuclear Reactors

Rensselaer is leading a major research project that will pair two of the world’s most powerful supercomputers to boost the safety and reliability of next-generation nuclear power reactors.

The three-year project, funded by DOE, will create highly detailed computer models of a proposed new type of nuclear reactor. These models will help ensure that the new reactors meet stringent safety and nonproliferation criteria, can burn long-lived and highly radioactive materials, and can operate over a long time without using new fuel. 

Running simulations of such a vast virtual model, where scientists can watch the reactor system perform as a whole or zoom in to focus on the interaction of individual molecules, requires unprecedented computing power. This project will use both Rensselaer’s Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations (CCNI) and Brookhaven National Laboratory’s New York Blue supercomputer.

Along with Rensselaer and Brookhaven, the partnership includes researchers from Columbia University and the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Michael Podowski, professor of nuclear engineering and engineering physics at Rensselaer, is the project director and principal investigator.

The team will model a sodium-cooled fast reactor, or SFR, one of the most promising of next-generation designs. The SFR can burn highly radioactive nuclear materials, which today’s reactors cannot do. So along with producing less toxic waste, SFRs should be able to actively help reduce the amount of existing radioactive materials by burning already-spent nuclear waste. SFRs also offer a viable, productive way to reduce the world’s stockpile of weapons-grade nuclear fuel.

See also: Designing Safer Nuclear Reactors (Rensselaer Research Review)

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