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Exploring Nuclear Technologies for Our Energy Future

Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Department of Nuclear Science and Technology conducts research and development related to nuclear technologies (reactors and accelerator-driven systems), reliability and risk assessment, and advanced modeling techniques for reactor simulation and energy systems

The Department serves as a resource in these and related areas to support the missions of the Department of Energy (DOE), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), and other national and international organizations. With a world-class staff of professionals with expertise in a broad range of areas related to the design and analyses of commercial, research and advanced nuclear systems, Brookhaven’s capabilities and facilities are also available to support and execute experiments in support of these missions. Additional strengths are in the areas of Probabilistic Risk Analysis, Modeling of Complex Energy Systems, Risk Informed Regulation, and technical support to DOE and NRC to improve the safety of nuclear power plants, both domestic, and in the Former Soviet Union.

The Department provides technical expertise in reactor physics, thermal-hydraulics, nuclear fuel design, and structural mechanic and supports a broad range of DOE research projects on future nuclear energy systems and accelerator-driven systems. It conducts risk analyses of complex technological systems to provide quantitative information to decision-maker and has established expertise in integrated risk and reliability management. While principally focused on domestic and foreign nuclear power plants, the staff also examines risks in such diverse areas as aircraft performance, chemical spills and electrical reliability. Specific current applications include risk-informing the regulations governing the operation of commercial nuclear power reactors; using risk insights to develop high-level, technology- neutral regulations for advanced reactor concepts; and establishing consensus standards for risk analyses to assure better quality, uniformity and consistency among practitioners. The Department also conducts programs and projects in nuclear energy and infrastructure systems through the following types of analysis: seismic and structural, plant aging, risk management, human factors, and neutronics/thermal-hydraulics.

Reactor Safety

The Laboratory’s work in reactor safety continues a decades-old tradition of providing in-depth support to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to ensure that operating U.S. nuclear power plants provide electricity safely and reliably. Work in nuclear power reactor safety is focused on structural and seismic analysis, nuclear power plant license renewal and new license review support, and operational safety inspections. The work includes both engineering and analytical support, and the results of this work contribute to the development of NRC regulatory guidelines, licensing activities, and operating plant safety. Human factors work helps to ensure that the human-system interface in nuclear plants and other industrial facilities contributes to the overall safety of operations conducted there. These projects include development of a risk-informed methodology and human factors review and acceptance criteria in nuclear power plants for the NRC, and human factors guidance documents for digital systems and control rooms for DOE, in collaboration with industry. The Department is involved in a number of projects related to the safety of research reactors. These include conducting reactor safety analyses for the research reactor operated by the NIST Center for Neutron Research, reviewing the updated Safety Analysis Report for the High Flux Isotope Reactor at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and supporting license renewal review of several university research reactors. The Department collaborates with industry, both domestic and foreign, on several large projects requiring specialized engineering and analysis capabilities.

The National Nuclear Data Center

The National Nuclear Data Center (NNDC) collects, evaluates, archives and disseminates nuclear physics data for basic nuclear research and for applied nuclear technologies. The center collects information on nuclear structure and nuclear cross-sections, maintains nuclear databases and makes use of modern information technology to disseminate the results. The data is kept in dedicated numerical libraries, which are periodically reevaluated and updated. The information is the product of the NNDC, cooperating data centers and other interested groups worldwide. In 2006, the Center reached an important milestone of more than one million Web database retrievals.

The NNDC has provided more than a half century of data and expertise to the world community, tracing its roots back to 1952, when the Brookhaven Neutron Cross Section Compilation Group was formed in the Physics Department. This group published the first edition of the well-known reference book BNL-325 (Neutron Cross Sections) in 1955. The group’s name was changed to the Sigma Center in 1961, to the National Neutron Cross Section Center in 1967 and finally to the NNDC in 1977, when it was given the additional responsibility for nuclear structure and decay data.

Materials in Extreme Environments

The Department continues to conduct research on materials in extreme environments for advanced energy systems. As part of that mission, the Group utilizes synchrotron characterization techniques such as diffraction, spectroscopy, and imaging and is developing sample chambers for the in-situ study of materials at the National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS). The Group is currently working on diverse materials science research for advanced energy systems including radiation effects in structural materials for nuclear reactors, new nanomaterials to extend the life and burn up of light water reactor nuclear fuels, carbonation of minerals for Enhanced Geothermal Energy Systems, increasing the reliability of batteries as emergency systems for nuclear plants and improved performance of accelerator target materials.

Proposed facility to study radiation effects

A new facility at the NSLS-II with a beamline for the real time and in-situ studies of materials in a radiation environment to study radioactive materials and radiation effects has been proposed. The beamline will consist of two end stations. One end station will focus on in-situ and time resolved imaging/ diffraction studies of radiation processes by combining NSLS-II capabilities with ion beam accelerators and ultrafast detectors. Another end station will examine structural damage in previously irradiated materials using x-ray diffraction, tomography and absorption techniques.

Fukushima Assistance

The Department assisted the Department of Energy in modeling possible outcomes of the accident at the Fukushima nuclear facilities in Japan. Staff members helped DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy by developing predictive models to indirectly provide support to the Japanese and advice to Americans living in Japan. These models were also been shared with Secretary Chu’s Science Council on the Fukushima event, a high-level group of advisors studying this accident to determine best- and worst-case scenarios moving forward. In addition, the Department helped the Office of Health, Security and Safety, which provides assistance to the DOE field and program offices.