U of I Receives DOE Grant For Nuclear Research
Faculty at the University of Illinois will spend three years developing material for nuclear plants that sustain great levels of heat and run more efficiently.
The National Science Foundation is funding the project through a grant of more than $530,000. The grant will allow U of I researchers to see how resistant new materials used in reactors are to fracture and fatigue, as well as corrosion.
The principal investigator and U of I engineering professor James Stubbins said he and five other faculty members on campus will work to develop a system that is cooled with helium rather than water.
"You're not relying on making the steam," he said. "You're just relying on heating a gas to extremely high temperatures. And if you do that, you can run the helium through an engine that looks like a jet engine and extracts electricity that way, getting the efficiency of the system from the heat to the electricity from 30 or 35 percent up to maybe 60 percent."
Stubbins said nuclear reactors made by a material resembling stainless steel would make it easier to remove heat in the event of a disaster, like what occurred earlier this year at the Japan Fukushima nuclear plant.
"In these kinds of reactors, you have a much different problem in removing the heat if there's an accident than the Fukushima-type of reactor," he said. "This type of reactor is much more resistant to these kind of problems, with the inability of the potential inability to remove the heat from the reactor core itself if they have to shut down suddenly."
Stubbins said Japan is starting to develop the kind of material that is less susceptible to corrosion, but he said the US is on the verge of developing such a reactor. He said one being designed in Idaho is intended to reach these high temperatures, but there are no such projects underway in Illinois.