Saturday, May 29, 2010

Oak Ridge supercomputers to model nuclear reactors

Department of Energy will spend $122 million over next five years.

casl logoThe future of nuclear energy will be found in software. The Department of Energy announced this week it will spend $122 million over the next five years to establish and operate a new Nuclear Energy Modeling and Simulation Energy Innovation Hub. The project is called the “Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors” or CASL.

The program, which includes partners from universities, industry and other national labs, will use advanced capabilities of the world's most powerful computers to make significant leaps forward in nuclear reactor design and engineering.

"The Nuclear Energy Innovation Hub is a critical element in our efforts to re-establish American leadership in nuclear energy research and development," said Deputy Secretary Dan Poneman.

ATR core The Nuclear Energy Innovation Hub will allow engineers to create a simulation of a currently operating reactor that will act as a "virtual model" of that reactor. They will then use the "virtual model" to address important questions about reactor operations and safety.

It will be used to address issues such as reactor power production increases and reactor life and license extensions. The combination of data gained from the "virtual model" and the physical reactor will be used to resolve technology issues confronting nuclear energy development.

The Hub will be funded at up to $22 million this fiscal year. The Hub will then be funded at an estimated $25 million per year for the next four years.

Partnerships are core of the program

The Nuclear Energy Innovation Hub will be located at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory near Oak Ridge, Tennessee. ORNL has the big iron and the ties to high speed computer networks to tie the partners together. In addition to ORNL, the members of the team are:

  • Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), Palo Alto, California
  • Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho Falls, Idaho
  • Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge Massachusetts
  • North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina
  • Sandia National Laboratories, Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • Tennessee Valley Authority, Knoxville, Tennessee
  • University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan
  • Westinghouse Electric Company, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Quick Facts about CASL

Director Dr. Douglas B. Kothe, a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from Purdue University. Kothe (right) is currently the Director of Science at the National Center for Computational Sciences, a part of the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility.

See Frank Munger’s Atomic City Underground of May 28th for a profile of Kothe. (Photo is linked from his blog.)

Here’s what Kogthe has in mind as an agenda for research.

Task 1 Develop computer models that simulate nuclear power plant operations, forming a “virtual reactor” for the predictive simulation of light water reactors.

Task 2 Use computer models to reduce capital and operating costs per unit of energy, extend the lifetime of the existing U.S. reactor fleet, and reduce nuclear waste volume generated by enabling higher fuel burnups. The CASL virtual reactor will also be used to accelerate the deployment of next-generation reactor designs, particularly advanced nuclear fuel technologies and structural materials within the reactor core.

Computer Assets The consortium will utilize the world’s three most powerful computers: Jaguar—a 2,331-trillion operations per second Cray computer at Oak Ridge; Roadrunner—a 1,375-trillion operations per second IBM computer at Los Alamos; and Kraken—a 1,029-trillion operations per second Cray computer, also at Oak Ridge.

Applications Validation against existing reactors at TVA, which will make available data for reactor design and model development, reactor operational parameters, reactor startup, and post-irradiation examination of spent fuel.

Legacy A preeminent computational science institute for nuclear energy that will produce an advanced modeling and simulation environment (the “virtual reactor”) for predictive simulation of Light Water Reactors. The new technologies will be used to strengthen the American nuclear industry.

Contacts Doug Kothe, CASL Director, 865-241-9392, Thom Mason, Director, ORNL, 865-576-2900, Billy Stair, Director of Communications, ORNL, 865-574-4160,

Modeling & Simulation for Nuclear Reactors - funding opportunity

The Modeling and Simulation for Nuclear Reactors FOA (reference number DE-FOA-0000170) is available for viewing from the Public Opportunities search page on the FedConnect website. To find this FOA, search for “DE-FOA-0000170” using the “Reference Number” search flag.

The vision for nuclear energy modeling and simulation has been developed over the last several years in a series of workshops that involved both the nuclear energy and the advanced modeling and simulation communities.

Several crosscutting issues in the enabling technologies emerged as themes during the workshop and are likely fertile ground for investment and collaboration.

  • Uncertainty quantification and error estimation in simulations
  • Methods for systems that couple multiple models
  • Movement away from empirical models toward physics based,
    first principles models
  • Algorithms and software that scale well on high capability
    computational platforms
  • Simulation workflow management, including data archiving and automated discovery.

Additional information about the science challenges of achieving the vision described above can be found at these two reports (link1) (link2).

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