UM System announces partnership with industry in small modular reactor consortium
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System campuses in Rolla and Columbia to work with industry leaders Ameren and Westinghouse Electric to bolster research in nuclear energy
COLUMBIA, Mo.— Ameren and Westinghouse Electric Co. are tapping into the expertise of two University of Missouri System institutions to conduct research that will benefit the nuclear energy industry.
Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T), home to the state’s first nuclear reactor, will lead the multi-university Small Modular Reactor Research and Education Consortium with a satellite center at the University of Missouri in Columbia. Ameren and Westinghouse Electric Co. are founding members of the consortium.
“The University of Missouri System, through its Rolla and Columbia campuses, is well-positioned to conduct leading-edge research to advance the design, construction and operation of SMRs,” said University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe. “This impressive partnership between the UM System campuses and industry partners in this emerging energy field will help to provide education and support research activities, creating and helping fill the pipeline of trained engineers and scientists that will be needed to support SMR renaissance for the nuclear industry.”
“We’re very pleased to lead this important collaboration,” said Missouri S&T Chancellor Cheryl B. Schrader. “With research capabilities in nuclear, civil, electrical and chemical engineering, materials science and engineering, and manufacturing, Missouri S&T is well-positioned to provide a broad range of engineering and science expertise to this effort. We look forward to working with our colleagues in Columbia as well as with Westinghouse, Ameren and other partners to address one of our nation’s most pressing energy challenges.”
“We anticipate that the development of the small modular nuclear reactor will be critical to meeting future energy needs worldwide in an environmentally responsible manner,” said MU Chancellor Brady Deaton. “Our collaboration with Westinghouse and Ameren and others through this consortium with Missouri S&T will bring great prosperity and opportunity to Missouri as we collectively address these energy needs. MU hosts the most powerful research reactor on any university campus, and excellent programs in nuclear science, engineering and in radiochemistry. We anticipate that our comprehensive strengths in these technical disciplines and in public policy will contribute profoundly to this new consortium.”
The consortium is also supported by a $250,000 grant from the Missouri Technology Corporation, a public-private partnership created by the Missouri General Assembly to promote entrepreneurship and foster the growth of new and emerging high-tech companies. Funds from the grant will be used to establish and grow the consortium, initially providing a 50 percent match for consortium membership fees.
“As Westinghouse has recognized, Missouri offers many advantages for the development and manufacture of SMRs, including our outstanding workforce, world-class research universities, central location and the excellent safety record of Ameren Missouri,” said Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon. “This consortium bolsters those advantages, and showcases the cutting-edge work in nuclear energy taking place in our state.”
The consortium will identify and develop transformational technologies that support small modular nuclear reactors to improve energy security and the environment. Smaller than traditional nuclear power plants, SMRs provide more flexibility for generating electricity.
The consortium will initially focus on seven areas:
- Establishing and applying certified computer-aided engineering tools to evaluate the design and safe operation of SMRs.
- Helping regulatory agencies develop new SMR licensing, developing deployment strategies for SMRs and evaluating new applications that aren’t possible with current nuclear reactors.
- Supporting the development and testing of advanced construction materials like high-performance concrete and helping develop advanced manufacturing concepts.
- Supporting development of advanced materials for SMR design that will reduce cost and increase safety, like silicon carbide and composites.
- Collaborating with research laboratories, private industry and international groups to investigate advanced fuel cycles, advanced mining concepts, and waste collection, storate and disposal methods.
- Developing new high-temperature remote sensors for advanced monitoring and control strategies required in SMR systems and investigating and supporting use of hybrid energy systems combining nuclear energy with legacy and renewable energy sources.
- Developing and providing distance-learning opportunities, both for credit and non-credit, related to SMR technology and supporting public awareness through outreach to K-12 students, teachers and the public.
“The consortium will support member-driven research,” said Dr. Joseph Smith, the Wayne and Gayle Laufer Chair of Energy at Missouri S&T who also serves as executive director of the SMR Research and Education Consortium. “An industrial advisory board representing each consortium member will determine the research projects and direction. We will be working on projects that are of interest to our members, and everyone will benefit from the research and education that results. The work of this consortium will have a significant impact on energy and energy security, and will help the U.S. maintain its leadership role in science and technology.”
Projects the consortium may consider in the future include a validation and verification study and a plan to study ways the heat generated by SMRs could be used in projects like water desalinization, production of petroleum products and hydrogen production.
“The development of Small Modular Reactors is very important to the energy future of the world,” said Dr. Mark Prelas, professor of nuclear engineering at MU and a research associate with the MU Research Reactor. Prelas is also director of research at the Nuclear Science and Engineering Institute at MU. “The technology is highly challenging, but this unique consortium between industry, the state of Missouri, Missouri S&T, and MU is the ideal partnership to overcome the many technological barriers. The consortium possesses the world-class researchers and resources to drive the technology and become world leaders.”
“As a founding member of the consortium, we are able to advance state-of-the-art nuclear power technology while supporting our local universities in research and educating the public,” said Warner Baxter, president and CEO, Ameren Missouri. “Our investment in the consortium will directly support efforts to advance the business of small modular reactors in our state, creating non-carbon energy, jobs and future economic development opportunities.”
“Rapid deployment of the first Westinghouse SMR in Missouri offers the opportunity to create a new industry cluster to serve a global market,” said Kate Jackson, chief technology officer at Westinghouse Electric Co. “The research consortium provides a unique resource to our company and to the energy sector in the U.S. I extend my gratitude to Governor Jay Nixon for his leadership in supporting the state grant and we look forward to a productive investment in the consortium.”
Missouri S&T developed the state’s first nuclear engineering program and one of the first in the nation, offering accredited undergraduate nuclear engineering degrees in 1960. Master’s and doctoral degrees in nuclear engineering have been offered on the Rolla campus since 1959 and 1965, respectively. Today, S&T is one of only 22 universities in the nation to offer bachelor degrees in nuclear engineering.
Missouri S&T’s nuclear reactor began operations in 1961. Licensed to operate at 200 kilowatts thermal power, the reactor is used for research and teaching in many disciplines at Missouri S&T.
The MU Research Reactor, which is the highest-powered research reactor on a university campus in the United States, operates at 10 megawatts. The reactor has an extremely reliable history of continuous operation more than 150 hours per week providing neutrons for nuclear-based experiments ranging from neutron activation analysis to radioisotope production and radiation damage studies.
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