Researchers at Vanderbilt exploring safety of nuclear power plant concrete

Researchers who want to ensure America’s nuclear power plants are safe for another generation are meeting at Vanderbilt University today and Thursday, focusing their attention on the aging concrete that encases reactors.

The nation’s 100 nuclear power reactors represent a $600 billion investment and provide 65 percent of America’s non-carbon-emitting power, said Bruce Hallbert, director of Nuclear Energy Enabling Technologies at the Idaho National Laboratory.

The 20 researchers from industry, government and academia who are gathered for a workshop at Vanderbilt’s Laboratory for Systems Integrity and Reliability want to develop the most reliable system for assessing nuclear power plants through damage modeling, monitoring techniques, and data analytics.

Concerns about the plants include concrete that is stressed and cracked from chemical reactions in the materials, weather and seismic activity.

Sankaran Mahadevan

“Many nuclear power plants have already gone beyond their initial license period and are now in the renewal period,” said Vanderbilt’s Sankaran Mahadevan, John R. Murray Sr. Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and professor of mechanical engineering. “We’ll have to demonstrate that these structures are still safe so they can be licensed beyond those initial periods, but how do we put into place technology to assess and ensure the safety of these structures?

“We’re developing a road map for research.”

Mahadevan coordinated the workshop – the first research-focused one for representatives from the Idaho and Oak Ridge national laboratories; Vanderbilt, University of South Carolina, Iowa State University, University of Minnesota and other schools; the Nuclear Regulatory Commission; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and the Electric Power Research Institute.

David Kosson discusses concrete damage modeling.

David Kosson, Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Engineering, professor of civil and environmental engineering, and director of the Consortium for Risk Evaluation with Stakeholder Participation, discussed this morning what can be learned from reactive transport modeling. That information includes likely reactions to different concrete compositions, aging scenarios and conceptual models; time frames and locations where concrete degradation is likely; and where to focus efforts to reduce risk.

The workshop continues Thursday with sessions on risk quantification and integrating all the individual approaches discussed earlier.



Heidi Hall, (615) 322-6614
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