Cooling towers stand against a blue sky at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant, in Tennessee. (Photo by the Tennessee Valley Authority, via Flickr)
The shimmying of last summer’s 5.8-magnitude earthquake in Virginia briefly hit the pause button on the work week in the nation’s capital. But at the North Anna nuclear power plant, 11 miles from the epicenter in central Virginia, that pause lasted nearly three months while inspections and cosmetic repairs were made.
The shutdown was triggered automatically and no serious issues were found, but the process cost more than 100,000 hours of labor and $21 million, not to mention lost productivity with the plant offline. A team of GW researchers is now hoping to shed new light on vibrations in nuclear cores and lessen the impact of future earthquakes.
“They didn’t know how the [nuclear cores] reacted because there were no tools to predict the behavior,” said Philippe M. Bardet, a professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.
Dr. Bardet and his colleagues Elias Balaras, in mechanical and aerospace engineering, and Majid Manzari, in civil and environmental engineering, are angling to change that. Last month the U.S. Department of Energy awarded the researchers more $860,000 over three years to devise a model for simulating the impact of vibrations inside a nuclear reactor.
It’s a tool they hope could be used to help assess damage before a costly cool-down and inspection, and to help engineers design next-generation reactors.
The research, utilizing GW’s earthquake simulator and one of the world’s fastest supercomputers, will be done in collaboration with scientists at Argonne National Laboratory, in Illinois, and the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission.