OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

Program announced to advance nuclear energy, new reactor technology

05/08/2012

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The United States Department of Energy today announced recipients of $47 million in a major initiative under the Nuclear Energy University Program, an effort to support education, research and facilities that will lead toward a “re-invigorated” nuclear energy industry in the U.S.

Awards were made to 46 universities, including $1.1 million to Oregon State University, which has been a pioneer in the development and testing of “passive safety” nuclear energy concepts and new types of small “modular” reactors that hold great promise in the future of nuclear power.

Daniel Poneman, the deputy secretary of energy, said that President Obama has cited nuclear energy as “a part of his blueprint to build the economy.” He also pointed to the programs at OSU as being a key part of future systems of nuclear energy.

“Small modular reactors are exciting for a number of reasons,” Poneman said. “They have safety and non-proliferation advantages, could be used in smaller communities, and you could punch them out in a standardized manner.

“Only time will tell, but their flexibility in cost and deployment is very promising,” he said.

OSU has one of the nation’s leading programs in education and research in nuclear energy and radiation health physics. Some of the large “next-generation” reactors being built in the world today were developed in part by testing of passive safety concepts in OSU laboratories in the 1990s, in which the reactor is designed to shut down automatically, if necessary, using natural forces including gravity and convection.

Those same features were incorporated into even more innovative technology researched at OSU – small modular reactors. These reactors are designed to be built in a factory, standardized, and shipped via rail car or other means to a location where they could be used individually or in groups. They provide different and attractive options to “the business model developed over decades of reactors getting larger and larger, built as one-of-a-kind reactors,” Poneman said.

"This is a continuation of the Department of Energy’s support for our research and educational programs, and it’s very important to what we’re trying to accomplish,” said Kathryn Higley, professor and head of the OSU Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics. “It supports our students, our infrastructure and the research that leads to commercialization of new technologies.”

One of the commercial leaders in the development of small modular reactors is a spinoff company that evolved from OSU research, NuScale Power.

Other features of the new program announced today include $5 million for undergraduate student scholarships, including several at OSU. OSU’s educational programs and enrollment in nuclear engineering and radiation health physics have expanded rapidly in recent years, and programs such as this will be important “to create the next generation experts, fresh thinking to jump start America’s nuclear energy industry,” Poneman said.

The four priorities outlined today included fuel cycle research and development; reactor concepts and designs; advanced modeling and simulation; and transformative research. Federal officials said today that significant progress is needed on three fronts for nuclear power to move forward – economic efficiency, non-proliferation issues and waste disposal. A panel has been appointed to explore the waste disposal issue and work towards a national consensus, they said.