ORNL's Mason on Nuke Hub victory: 'It's something we felt was within our sweet spot'

Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director Thom Mason today reveled in victory, as the Dept.of Energy announced that an ORNL-led team would get the hotly contested Nuclear Simulation and Modeling Hub.

Mason praised Doug Kothe, who led the proposal team and will become director of the Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Lightwater Reactors (CASL), talked about the advantage of having TVA's diverse range of nuclear reactors for use in the project, and said the lab's background in nuclear engineering and computer modeling and simulation was an important factor.

"It's something we felt was within our sweet spot," Mason said. "We've got a great set of partners as well."

Mason said TVA's fleet of nuclear reactors represent 60 percent of those types of reactors operating in the United States. "That diversity is actually helpful," he said.

One aspect of the project is to use operating data from a nuclear reactor to help validate the "virtual model" of a reactor using computer simulations.

Another nice aspect of the TVA partnership is that the Watts Bar 2 reactor is coming online shortly (scheduled for 2012), Mason said.

"It will be a brand-new start, where all the initial conditions are known, so from a modeling point of view, that's attractive," the ORNL director said. "There's an opportunity with Watts Bar-2, but we actually have an interest in all the different designs . . . TVA's breadth is helpful."

Mason said ORNL's Jaguar, the Cray XT5 system that's currently rated as the world's fastest supercomputer, will be used for the simulation work. But other computers will be used as well, including the Kraken (a UT/National Science Foundation machine that's also located at ORNL). The fact sheet indicates that the Roadrunner supercomputer at Los Alamos will be involved.

The University of Tennessee and other universities, such as Florida State, are not listed among the major partners, but will have an involvement in CASL, Mason said.

Mason said ORNL's proposal for the Nuclear Hub was based, in part, on the work done with the Bioenergy Sciences Center, which he said was similar in scale to a Hub.

"The advantage that we've seen is the scientific and technical integration that comes from managing this large, multi-institutional effort in a tightly integrated way," he said. "It's comparable in terms of the institutional involvement -- universities and national labs. It's not exactly a Hub, but it's pretty close."

This project is an important step in using high-performance supercomputers in an applied way, Mason said.. Traditionally, the big machines -- such as Jaguar -- have been used largely for basic science, he said.

"Now we're taking those capabilities into the applied science realm," Mason said. Nuclear energy is a great one to use for that purpose, he said.

The initial focus of CASL will be on operations of the existing group of lightwater reactors in the United States, Mason said.

"There are opportunities for improving operational performance. For instance, by going to higher burn-up fuels, which would reduce the amount of waste produced and improve the cost of electric power," Mason said. "Another important topic that's under close examination is extending the life of the reactors and the licenses. In order to do that you have to have confidence when you extend the license. There's a tremendous benefit when you take that substantial investment you've made in building that reactor and amortize it over a longer lifetime."


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    Frank MungerSenior Writer Frank Munger covers the Dept. of Energy's Oak Ridge facilities and many related topics — nuclear weapons, nuclear waste and other things nuclear, environmental cleanup and science of all sorts. Atomic City Underground is, first and foremost, a news blog, but there's room for analysis, opinion and random thoughts that have no place else to go. Contact Frank.