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Materials Science at Oregon State University

Ongoing Structural Mechanics and Material Science Research within the Nuclear Engineering Department

Date: Thursday, Jan 16th
Presenter: Prof. Wade Marcum, OSU Nuclear Engineering


Nuclear reactors have maintained an active role within the U.S. energy vertical as serving to provide a continuous source of base-load power since the 1950’s. Nonetheless, this carbon dioxide free emissions source of energy has struggled to grow within the U.S. due to two primary contributors – large capital cost of the new plants, and negative public perception. In an attempt to compete with other forms of energy, nuclear power plants have sought other means of increasing revenue and output by seeking power uprates. Presently, nuclear power provides approximately 20 percent of the U.S. power demand across a sum of 101 operating power plants. These power uprates (increasing a nuclear power plant’s electric capacity by up to 160% of its originally licensed capacity) have been the primary contributor to the industry’s presently sound state in recent years. However, these uprates have opened a number of unanswered engineering problems that center on material science and structural mechanics. With an increase in power, a plant sees an approximately proportional increase in temperature, and flow rate in locations. These elevated states onset accelerated levels of material corrosion, oxidation, fatigue, etc. for reactor internal components which are expected to last the entire life of the nuclear power plant. A number of projects within the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics (NERHP) are presently underway to support the quantification, characterization, and/or demonstration of systems, components, and phenomena that drive an increased capacity for nuclear reactor operations for both power and research reactors. A few select projects will be discussed that focus on structural mechanical and material science which center on nuclear reactors and tie into the aforementioned motivation. Specifically these topics include mechanical instability of fuel under hydraulic loading, oxidation of aluminum cladding at elevated temperatures, and the influence of fuel heterogeneity on a reactor’s controllability.