1 July 2009
Looking to design a better nuclear fuel
In the age of needing cleaner, safer energy, a new process is under way to design better nuclear fuels and make safer and more efficient reactors to generate nuclear power.
Anter El-Azab, an associate professor in the Florida State University Department of Scientific Computing, won a $1 million, five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Energy for nuclear fuel study.
El-Azab’s department and his Computational Materials Science Group at Florida State University will conduct research as part of a new $10 million Energy Frontiers Research Centers (EFRC) Center for Materials Science of Nuclear Fuels. The Department of Energy established EFRC in an effort to spur breakthroughs in fundamental energy science.
The mission of this center, led by the Idaho National Laboratory, is to use better computational models to learn more about nuclear reactor fuels.
“The Computational Materials Science Group at Florida State routinely conducts research on the microstructure of a wide range of materials,” El-Azab said. “Thus, we have the experience, tools, and manpower to do first-rate research on fuel materials microstructure with this new $1 million grant. This funding complements other major research grants we already have in related areas of materials research.”
With the grant, El-Azab and the Computational Materials Science Group will develop new theoretical and computational models to study the microstructure changes in fuel in the extreme nuclear reactor environment. Nuclear reactors generate energy through the fission process that takes place in the reactor fuel. That energy then converts into electricity.
Changes in the reactor fuel microstructure alter the fuel properties and can result in mechanical failure of the fuel, with the consequence of releasing harmful radioactive elements to the environment, El-Azab said.
“Therefore, if we understand how the microstructure changes during reactor operation, the materials scientists and engineers can then design and fabricate fuels with higher reliability and performance,” he said.
For related information, go to www.isa.org/manufacturing_automation.