Radiation Science and Engineering Center receives $1 million DOE grant

September 8, 2017

University Park, Pa. – Penn State’s Radiation Science and Engineering Center (RSEC) has received a grant for $1 million from the U.S. Department of Energy’s University Infrastructure Grants program. Supplemented with an additional $600,000 in RSEC funds and equipment donations, the award will be used to update the control console and modernize the safety system at the Penn State Breazeale Reactor (PSBR).

Constructed in 1955 under the “Atoms for Peace” program, the PSBR is the longest operating licensed research nuclear reactor in the United States. The reactor’s current control console, installed in 1991, has operated continuously since then with only minor updates of computer components. However, as is the case with all operating nuclear reactors, obsolescence issues must eventually be addressed by replacing both hardware and software.

Kenan Ünlü, director of the RSEC, professor of nuclear engineering and co-principal investigator for the award, recounted the history of the reactor console at the PSBR.

“The original Training, Research, Isotopes, General Atomics (TRIGA) control system, installed in 1965, used first-generation, discrete-component, solid-state devices,” he explained. “By the mid-1980s, some components in the 1965 control console had been updated, and a new reactor console system was planned. An Atomic Energy Canada Limited (AECL) console system was installed in 1991.”

The AECL console, a “hybrid” system, combined the latest industrial control computers with the newest nuclear-grade analog reactor safety circuits. “The system provided a large inventory of features not previously available to support research and education and proved to be the most reliable full-featured console of its era,” stated Ünlü.

The PSBR’s new console will be 21st century state-of-the-art, using completely digital technology.

James Turso, assistant director for irradiation services and operations at the RSEC, senior research associate and principal investigator for the award, noted, “Many older university research reactors in the U.S. are interested in pursuing analog-to-digital upgrades. Penn State’s console replacement will be the first of its kind in the country, with off-the-shelf digital control and safety systems, provided by a controls company, that have been proven for decades in industry. Due to the modularity and programmability of the new system, the RSEC staff will have the capability to enhance and improve the equipment as necessary and pre-empt future obsolescence issues. Additionally, all design, software and regulatory aspects of the new system will be openly available to other members of the research reactor community to expedite their adoption of the technology.”

Although the current console continues to provide excellent features and unrivaled reliability, Ünlü, Turso and their colleagues are looking forward to having a fully digital integrated control and protection system.

“This new system will enable students and researchers to implement advanced reactor control algorithms,” Ünlü said. “In parallel to this development, new computer code and equipment architecture will be developed for the Penn State TRIGA control system.”

Turso added, “Our new console will enhance the capabilities of our already ultra-safe reactor. With its programmable/modular architecture, functions such as power instrument calibration and control rod capability measurements could potentially be automated. Penn State will be the model for successful application of digital control and safety technology, not only for the research reactor community, but for the entire nuclear power industry.”

Replacement of the PSBR control console and implementation of the new safety system are expected to be completed by 2021.

 

Share this story:

facebook linked in twitter email

MEDIA CONTACT:

M. Jane Harris

jharris@engr.psu.edu

 
 

About

The Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering at Penn State is one of the nation’s largest and most successful engineering departments. We serve more than 1,000 undergraduate students and more than 330 graduate students

We offer B.S. degrees in mechanical engineering and nuclear engineering as well as resident (M.S., Ph.D.) and online (M.S., M.Eng.) graduate degrees in nuclear engineering and mechanical engineering. MNE's strength is in offering hands-on experience in highly relevant research areas, such as energy, homeland security, biomedical devices, and transportation systems.

Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering

137 Reber Building

The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802-4400

Phone: 814-865-2519