DOE upgrades UW-Madison nuclear facilities, funds new projects

Sept. 23, 2011

by James Beal

With more than $2 million in U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) funding, University of Wisconsin-Madison engineering physics researchers will work with teams at other U.S. universities to develop the next generation of nuclear energy technologies.

In all, DOE awarded more than $17 million, including $5.6 million in grants for 21 projects at 19 universities to upgrade university research reactors and purchase equipment that will enhance nuclear research and educate the next generation of nuclear scientists, engineers and technicians.

UW-Madison researchers, led by Distinguished Research Professor Kumar Sridharan, will work as part of a project combining expertise from six universities and two national labs with 18 investigators and their respective research groups to create predictive tools including models and databases that will enable the design, installation and licensing of dry used-nuclear-fuel storage systems capable of containing the fuel for up to 300 years.

In another collaboration, engineering physics Professor Todd Allen, in collaboration with Sridharan and senior scientist Mark Anderson, will work with investigators at the University of California at Berkeley and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to test an advanced reactor design, cooled by molten salt. The design generates electricity using a technology similar to that used in natural-gas plants, but more efficiently and with enhanced safety performance. DOE said the design will generate higher temperatures than seen in typical reactors and will produce heat that can be used in refineries to produce transportation fuels.

In addition, UW-Madison received funds to upgrade its research reactor with new water purification equipment. The upgrade will reduce maintenance costs; increase reactor availability; modernize water-level sensing and control equipment; upgrade reactor instrumentation and control modules; and improve radiation-monitoring systems.

DOE funding will also help purchase a new detection system for a scanning-electron microscope; upgrade the control systems of a particle accelerator; and upgrade testing, monitoring and control systems in key thermal-hydraulic testing facilities.