CORVALLIS - Work done in an upgraded and improved test facility in the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics at Oregon State University has helped create the "next generation" of nuclear power reactors that many experts believe will herald the future of nuclear energy.

This fall, tests done in this facility, along with much other work in a massive, international project, led to the final approval by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of the AP 1000 Generation III-plus, an advanced nuclear reactor design from Westinghouse that will soon be available for international and domestic orders.

For its work in this field, the Advanced Thermal Hydraulic Research Laboratory at OSU, in collaboration with TIC The Industrial Company, received two awards from the Associated Builders and Contractors. The awards recognize their achievements in upgrading the testing facility from the AP600 design to the AP1000 design.

These reactor designs are much simpler, less costly to build, and based on "passively safe" concepts that take advantage of natural forces such as gravity, natural circulation, convection and evaporation for improved safety. They have fewer pumps, piping, valves, and cables, and overall less items to install, inspect or possibly fail than a traditional plant.

At OSU, these processes and design elements were built in one-quarter scale in the test laboratory, and tested repeatedly under varying conditions. The recent major upgrade to the facility involved construction and design of new electrical, mechanical, and pipe components, new data acquisition hardware, tracking instrumentation, and state of the art computer hardware and software.

"OSU is very proud of the important research we contributed to assist Westinghouse and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in their determination that this reactor design concept meets the design requirements of reducing costs and enhancing safety," said Andrew Klein, professor and head of the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics.

This project is one of OSU's largest collaborative research efforts with private industry. Many nuclear industry officials say that power reactors of the type created by this research should be the safest, most economical nuclear power plants ever designed, and could lead to a re-birth of the nuclear power industry both in the U.S. and around the world.

Leaders of the OSU Thermal Hydraulics and Reactor Safety team include Jose Reyes, Qiao Wu, Brian Woods, John Groome and Teresa Culver, as well as both graduate and undergraduate students.