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Research Areas

Typical areas of the ongoing commercial nuclear power industry research at the Westinghouse Science and Technology Department include: The Hot Cell Facility; Autoclave Laboratory; The Materials Characterization Laboratory; Chemical Processing; Probabilistic Reliability and Advanced Optimization Methods

Examples of new technologies and innovations of the Department include: Silicon Carbide (SiC) Detectors; Pulsed Gamma Neutron Activation Analysis (PGNAA); The IRIS Reactor; Modeling to Support Risk-Informed Optimization.

The Hot Cell Facility provides Westinghouse with the capability to perform a full range of metallurgical investigations on any non-fuel component after service in a reactor environment. The hot cells have also been used for extensive research projects, particularly in the areas of irradiation effects on pressure vessel steels and reactor internal materials that have led to improved safety analysis and plant maintenance procedures. Over 50 plant component, critical-path investigations have been completed in the 25 years of the facility's existence, allowing engineering analyses which have helped power plants return quickly and safely to service.

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The Science and Technology Department operates a high-pressure Autoclave Laboratory with 32 operating autoclaves that simulate the temperature, pressure, chemistry, and operating stresses that are experienced in a pressurized water reactor system. The laboratory was completed in 1998 and features computerized autoclave control and remote data access.

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The Materials Characterization Laboratory is designed to obtain physical, structural, chemical, and topographical information on solid materials and surfaces. The laboratory occupies over 6000 square feet of space and employs the following techniques:

  • Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy
  • Auger Analysis
  • Crystallography
  • Electron Diffraction
  • Energy Dispersive X-ray Analysis Microscopy
  • Hardness Measurements
  • Image Analysis
  • Infrared Spectroscopy
  • Ion Chromatography
  • Light Microscopy
  • Mass Spectroscopy
  • Metallography
  • Scanning Electron Microscopy
  • Scanning Transmission Electron Microscopy
  • Thermal Analysis
  • Transmission Electron Microscopy
  • X-ray Diffraction
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Chemical Processing facilities include a state-of-the-art analytical laboratory and extensive engineering and modeling software capabilities for thermodynamics (the NASA CEA code with a Westinghouse augmented database of over 3000 compounds) and chemical process simulation (ChemCad for Chemstations). Areas for which these facilities are being used include the design and optimization of Westinghouse Nuclear Fuel's Columbia Site and Western Zirconium Plant. Chemical engineering support is provided in the areas of uranium dioxide and zirconium production, uranium fluoride processing, environmental engineering and resource recovery, radioactive waste handling, and nuclear power plant chemistry and auxiliary operations. New technologies and concepts that enhance manufacturing processes and power plant operations are investigated and recommended for development.

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Probabilistic Reliability and Advanced Optimization Methods (such as evolutionary algorithms) support the development of such new services as risk-informed piping in-service inspection, risk-informed steam generator inspection, and nuclear asset management. Our expertise in probability theory supports Westinghouse and commercial nuclear power industry regulatory initiatives. Innovative decision analysis methods are used to help Westinghouse make decisions in light of risk and uncertainty, manage research project portfolios, support marketing efforts, and direct industry initiatives on generic issues. Statistical analyses, including advanced methods for regression, acceptance sampling, and design of experiments, enable quality control and manufacturing process innovations.

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Following are examples of new technologies and innovations:

Silicon Carbide (SiC) Detectors are wide bandgap semiconductor devices that have demonstrated their operability as detectors for alpha particles, neutrons, gamma rays, and X-rays, at temperatures up to 700 degrees Celsius and for prolonged times in intense neutron/gamma environments. They are being developed for many Westinghouse applications including:

  • Reactor ex-core power monitoring
  • Fuel assembly instrumentation
  • Fuel rod gamma-scanning
  • Reactor core neutron monitoring during refueling operations
  • Transuranic waste tank dosimetry and monitoring

Recently, these detectors were applied successfully as part of a submersible fuel rod gamma-scanner during measurements at an operating PWR fuel pool.

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Pulsed Gamma Neutron Activation Analysis (PGNAA) is being developed by Westinghouse for the nondestructive assay of toxic metals (examples include mercury, cadmium and lead) in waste containers. It is currently the only nondestructive assay technology demonstrated for this application. Westinghouse is currently teaming with BNFL Instruments to build a first-of-a-kind PGNAA 55-gallon drum assay prototype for the U.S. Department of Energy.

Other Westinghouse Electric Company applications of PGNAA that have been investigated include:

  • Characterization of reactor pressure vessel weld embrittlement
  • Measurement of boron-10 concentrations in PWR coolant
  • Process monitoring during nuclear fuel manufacturing
  • Non-destructive assay of sealed containers
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IRIS (International Reactor Innovative and Secure) is a pressurized light water reactor being developed by an international consortium led by Westinghouse Electric Company and including twenty-one organizations from ten countries. Industry, utilities, laboratories and universities are represented in the consortium. IRIS is an integral (all primary system components are inside the vessel), modular, medium size (335 MWe) reactor which features enhanced safety, simplicity and competitive economics. IRIS adopts a safety-by-design approach where most accidents are eliminated altogether or their consequences/probabilities lessened. Consequently, all but one of the Class IV accidents (the ones with the potential for radiological release) are eliminated, the core damage frequency is estimated to be of the order of E-8 and IRIS intends to be licensed with no emergency response requirements. Some of IRIS unique features are incorporation of control rod drive mechanisms inside the vessel (eliminating the possibility of head failures), 48 months’ maintenance interval, extended (up to four years) refueling intervals, desalination and district heating co-generation capability. The project is well into the preliminary design phase. NRC pre-licensing application started in 2003 and will be completed by 2005, to be followed by design certification in 2008-2010 and deployment in 2012-2015.

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Modeling to Support Risk-Informed Optimization of in-service inspection of commercial nuclear power plant steam generator tubes has been developed. The model features a novel application of probability theory to produce estimates of the maximum number of degraded tubes to be left in service and still achieve reliability targets, and an advanced mathematical optimization module to achieve the minimum sampling required to demonstrate a stipulated confidence in not exceeding such a maximum.

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chip SiC detector chip compared to
a U.S. dime

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