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Materials Science at Oregon State University

Developing Advanced Fuels and Materials for Sodium-Cooled Fast Reactors

Date: Thursday, Apr 12th
Presenter: Dr. Gary Povirk, Idaho National Laboratory


Sodium-cooled fast spectrum reactors provide that opportunity to close the nuclear fuel cycle, but they require fuel systems and structural materials that can withstand high fuel burnup, high neutron irradiation dose to the clad and other structural materials, and long fuel assembly residence times. Given that the time and cost of developing and qualifying fuels and materials represents one of the major hurdles for the deployment of advanced nuclear reactors, a major focus of the work was to understand the behavior of these complex systems through the use of literature reviews, improved characterization of materials, the development of physically-based models, and the use of alternatives to neutron irradiation experiments. The lessons learned from these experiences are summarized, including the importance of integrating design studies into the experimental programs so that gaps in understanding can be identified and so testing priorities can be set.

Gary Povirk obtained a Ph.D. from Brown University in solid mechanics in 1991, spent one year as a post-doctoral research associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and taught in the Mechanical Engineering Department at Yale University for six years. During this time, his research typically combined experimental and numerical methods to study the behavior of metal matrix composites and thin metallic films. For the past eighteen years, Dr. Povirk has worked in the nuclear industry, holding various positions at the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory (KAPL), TerraPower, Elysium Industries, and the Idaho National Laboratory. At KAPL and at TerraPower, his work was primarily focused on modeling fuel system performance, developing improved fuel systems, and designing irradiation tests in the Advanced Test Reactor (ATR). He has patents on two different fuel element designs that are being tested in the ATR, including a design that is being considered to convert the U.S. nuclear navy to low-enriched fuel. Before joining Elysium, he was one of about fifteen engineers to hold the title of Consultant, which is highest position in the technical career path at KAPL. At Elysium, Dr. Povirk held the position of Director of Materials and Chemistry, where he was responsible for managing a group of about ten engineers and consultants, developing a test program at Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, creating a design basis for the reactor, and fostering partnerships with vendors. Most recently, Gary joined the Idaho National Laboratories, where he leads irradiation test programs for advanced nuclear fuels.