Penn State RSEC personnel to test nuclear reactor vessel monitoring device

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State’s Radiation Science and Engineering Center (RSEC) and Westinghouse Electric Company have been awarded a $789,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) under the DoE’s Nuclear Energy Enabling Technologies awards program.

The funding will support Westinghouse’s development of a self-powered, wireless transmitter that can continuously monitor what is happening inside a reactor vessel without relying on an on-site, back-up power system. RSEC’s share of the grant, $450,000, will fund testing of the device by RSEC personnel at the Penn State Breazeale Reactor (PSBR), the nation’s longest continuously operating university research reactor.

“We are excited to continue our long-standing collaborative relationship with the RSEC staff and the PSBR facility to develop this innovative and advanced technology,” said Ken Canavan, Westinghouse’s chief technology officer. “Westinghouse’s in-core transmitter is designed to be both radiation-tolerant and temperature-resistant, enhancing the plant’s core performance monitoring and enabling our customers to realize substantial operating improvements.”

The goal of the testing to be done by RSEC staff is to demonstrate that the Westinghouse device is capable of wirelessly transmitting a signal in a high neutron and gamma radiation field without degradation of the signal.

“The RSEC personnel have extensive experience in the irradiation of materials and electronics,” said Kenan Ünlü, director of the RSEC, professor of nuclear engineering in the College of Engineering and co-principal investigator for the project. “Their technical capabilities, as well as the PSBR’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission license conditions, allow for an extensive degree of flexibility in core experimental fixtures design, construction and installation not typically available at other university reactors. The RSEC and PSBR have several extraordinary advantages for in-core or near-core experimentation and have safely performed hundreds of experiments over the years.”

The project, according to Neil Sharkey, vice president for research at Penn State, is a perfect example of industry-university collaboration. “This partnership with Westinghouse could not be better suited to Penn State’s current pursuits and aspirations,” he said. “It fits squarely within our desire to drive the economy through mutually rewarding partnerships while at the same time exploring new energy technologies aimed at enabling a generation of safe, clean nuclear reactors.”

Justin Schwartz, Harold and Inge Marcus Dean in the College of Engineering, added, “This project typifies the type of impact that RSEC, when equipped with a world-class university research reactor, has on the international stage. Penn State’s unique combination of faculty expertise and infrastructure enables projects like this one and allows us to continue to lead in the development of critical advanced nuclear technologies.”

Ünlü expects testing of Westinghouse’s new device to be completed by September 2019.

Last Updated March 21, 2018