Thermal Hydraulic Researchers Build Largest Transparent Fuel Test Assembly in the World

--Shared by Texas A&M Engineering --

transparent fuel test assembly

Advanced reactor technologies have generated interest for their potential to reduce fossil fuel emissions, improve energy efficiency and cut down on nuclear waste. Researchers with the Department of Nuclear Engineering at Texas A&M University have provided new insights into the workings of an advanced sodium-cooled fast reactor fuel assembly, having used a specialized test facility to measure hydraulic parameters and validate computational tools used in reactor design and testing. The fast reactor assembly design used is significant, not only because of the complex inner knowledge it can provide about advanced reactors, but also because the Texas A&M experiment is using the largest transparent test fuel assembly of its kind to date.

“TerraPower, AREVA and Argonne National Laboratories (ANL) have a strong interest in this new fuel design that will be potentially used in advanced fast reactors,” said Dr. Rodolfo Vaghetto, a research assistant professor with the department and project investigator. “This research is part of the work we do to ensure a new design goes from conceptual to something that you can actually build, operate safely and use to produce clean energy in an efficient way. The high-fidelity experimental data we’ve gathered through this experiment will help improve advanced simulator capabilities and validate state-of-the-art computational codes.”

Fuel assemblies help facilitate the process of power generation in the reactor through fission, a process by which an atom splits and a small amount of mass is converted to energy. In comparison to current reactors, advanced fast reactors produce “fast” neutrons that are not as efficient at creating fission, but are readily received by a specific uranium isotope to become plutonium. Producing the plutonium in this manner gives these conceptual reactors the potential to produce more nuclear fuel than they use, leading to a more efficient, abundant and clean production of energy to meet public needs. While the test assembly is unique in that it is the largest of its kind ever constructed, the researchers have also ensured the measurements taken are accurate through a novel technique, a transparent assembly.

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