July 1, 2003 Nuclear engineers at Purdue University are heading a project to create a computer tool that will be essential to certify the safety of future nuclear power plants that will use new types of cooling systems.
Mamoru Ishii, the Walter Zinn Distinguished Professor of Nuclear Engineering and director of the Purdue Institute of Thermal Hydraulics, said: "Future nuclear power plants will be safer than today's plants because their passive cooling systems will not require pumps. This means the cooling systems won't stop running if electricity is cut during a catastrophe."
Cooling systems must keep operating even if a nuclear plant's fission reactions are shut down because of "decay heat" that continues to heat the reactor core. Without the cooling, the plant's reactor core melts down and releases dangerous levels of radiation. This scenario will be less likely with passive cooling systems. Because passive cooling systems will operate automatically, human error also will be less likely, Ishii said.
Engineers in the Purdue-based institute are creating a new computer "code" to test the safety of new plant designs and their cooling systems. The code is a precise simulation that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will use in the approval process for the new plants.
Nuclear power provides about 20 percent of the nation's electricity and may become increasingly important in the future because of issues surrounding fossil fuels, including fluctuating prices, scarcity and air pollution, Ishii said.
The institute includes researchers from Oregon State University; Pennsylvania State University; the University of California, Los Angeles; and the University of Wisconsin.
Purdue operates several laboratories to test future nuclear power plant designs, including the NRC-funded Purdue University Multi-dimensional Integral Test Assembly, or PUMA.
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