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Posted 10.09.07


Nuclear Engineers Lay Groundwork for Next-Generation Reactors

COLUMBIA, MO - At the University of Missouri-Columbia, faculty members from the Nuclear Science and Engineering Institute have been selected by federal officials to enhance and develop technologies for America's "next generation" of nuclear reactors.

As part of a three-year, $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), MU engineers are working with colleagues from North Carolina State University and Washington University in St. Louis to research advanced energy systems for "Very High Temperature Reactors (VHTRs)," which also are called Generation IV reactors. With ongoing experiments being conducted at each of the three universities, the researchers will improve thermodynamic efficiency and hydrogen production capability. They will brainstorm issues dealing with fuel cycle, nuclear materials, complex fluid dynamics and heat transfer. MU researchers will lead the consortium.

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Sudarshan K. Loyalka, Curators' Professor of Nuclear Engineering at MU and principal investigator of the consortium, said the new reactors will offer better efficiency and increased energy as a result of operational temperatures that will exceed 900 to 1,000 degrees Celsius. None of the world’s reactors operate at such capacity. The current maximum temperature – generated by light water reactors – is about 300 degrees; but at 33 percent efficiency much of that heat isn’t converted into electrical energy, Loyalka said.

Engineers worldwide are racing to make VHTRs a reality. Loyalka said South Africa is aiming to have such a reactor built by 2012; the United States’ goal is 2021. Research at MU will play a vital role in U.S. efforts.

“The technology being developed is quite new in terms of the temperatures that will be generated,” he said. “This is the groundwork, and there are several challenges associated with fuel cycles, temperatures, the materials and safety issues. Higher temperatures result in better efficiency, meaning more heat can be converted to electricity. These reactors have efficiency rates of 45 to 50 percent.”

The project is part of the DOE’s Nuclear Energy Research Initiative and President Bush’s Global Nuclear Energy Partnership program. In all, 11 consortia – each comprising at least three universities – were selected. The MU consortium is one of two that will focus on Generation IV reactors, which Loyalka said will be safer, more economical and result in decreased dependency on fossil fuels.

“The demand for energy is increasing all over the world – here in the U.S., China, India, Brazil and developing nations,” he said. “We have had good experiences with nuclear reactors. On the balance, these are the safest and the most economical means of power generation. The project we’re working on will enhance nuclear power’s contributions to society even more."



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