Designing a Better Reactor
To expedite this understanding, Podowski’s team will construct an incredibly detailed computer model of an SFR. The model will allow researchers to zoom in and watch as individual molecules of fission gas and fuel material interact with other molecules inside the reactor, or zoom out to simulate and test the behavior of the reactor as a whole. Creating such a model, not to mention running hundreds or thousands of simulations with slightly modified models and conditions, requires a tremendous amount of computing power and would not be possible without the help of supercomputers, Podowski said.
In order to construct the model and run these massive simulations, Podowski’s team will develop and deploy a suite of powerful, high-performance software tools capable of performing such a task. Since no one computer code or technology is robust enough to model the wide variety of systems that comprise an SFR, the team will use different computer codes for different parts of the model and then develop new ways of linking those differently coded segments together into a single, cohesive, seamless package.
The researchers will use simulations to study fuel performance, local core degradation, fuel particle transport, and several other aspects of the SFRs. By better understanding how design and operational issues will affect the reactor at different stages in its life cycle, Podowski said, the new study will help to dramatically improve the design and safety of SFRs long before the first physical prototype is ever built.
“Nuclear reactors are safe, but nothing is perfect,” Podowski said. “So the issue is to anticipate what could happen, understand how it could happen, and then take actions to both prevent it from happening and, in the extremely unlikely instance of an accident, be able to mitigate the consequences.”
Unprecedented Power, Unique Partnership
The research program, titled “Deployment of a Suite of High Performance Computational Tools for Multiscale Multiphysics Simulation of Generation-IV Reactors,” is unique in scale as well as its geographic concentration. Along with Rensselaer and Brookhaven, the partnership includes researchers from Columbia University and the State University of New York at Stony Brook, all New York state-based institutions. Another Empire State connection is computer giant IBM, headquartered in New York and the maker of Blue Gene supercomputers. The company developed, designed, and built both CCNI and New York Blue.
Rensselaer nuclear engineering and engineering physics professor and head of Rensselaer’s Interdisciplinary Center for Multiphase Research, Michael Podowski, will lead a team of more than 10 researchers on the three-year project. Rensselaer associate professor Kenneth Jansen, assistant professor Li Liu, and research assistant professor Steven Antal all of the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering are listed as co-principal investigators and will contribute to the study. Podowski said he also expects to hire a postdoctoral researcher and at least three doctoral students to work on the project.
The rest of the team includes James Glimm from Stony Brook University; David Keyes from Columbia University; as well as Lap Cheng and Roman Samulyak from Brookhaven National Laboratory.