This Nuclear Microreactor Has Received Unmatched Safety With Live 3D Temperature Mapping

A team of researchers at the University of Michigan has developed a real-time, 3D temperature mapping system for nuclear microreactors.

Nuclear microreactors, compact enough to be transported by a semi-truck, are emerging as a viable energy solution for remote locations, disaster relief, and military operations. However, deploying these reactors in critical environments requires robust monitoring systems to ensure safe and efficient operation.

The University of Michigan’s new system, described in a study published in Applied Mathematical Modelling, leverages a novel theoretical approach to evaluate basis functions representing fundamental data trends. This allows for reconstructing high-resolution 3D temperature distributions within the microreactor, enabling unprecedented real-time monitoring capabilities.

“One of the main challenges to achieving wider adoption of nuclear microreactors is the ability to ensure that we know what’s going on inside the reactor at any given time,” said Brendan Kochunas, an associate professor at U-M and senior author of the study.

The researchers’ method is particularly suited for remote operation due to its computer-memory-aware design, making it an ideal candidate for digital twin systems. These systems create virtual representations of physical reactors from sensor data, enhancing safety and economic viability.

“Digital twins are an exciting new prospective technology that may improve both the safety and economic viability of nuclear microreactors,” said Dean Price, a doctoral student at U-M and corresponding author of the study.

Initially, the evaluation found that general basis functions were insufficiently accurate for real-world microreactor temperature monitoring. To address this, the team proposes using tailored basis functions derived from pre-calculated temperature distributions specific to each microreactor, significantly enhancing accuracy.

“Our methods are particularly well suited for remote operation as they take computer memory into account, which will be useful for providing detailed information to digital twin monitoring systems with limited computational abilities,” added Price.

The real-time monitoring of temperature distributions could revolutionize nuclear microreactor operations, potentially opening new markets and aiding the transition to a decarbonized electric grid. The researchers remain optimistic about the future of their technology.

“Before deployment, we must ensure that surveillance using digital twins provides accurate information for safe operation within core operating limits,” emphasized Majdi Radaideh, U-M assistant professor and contributing author of the study.

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