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Joint Office of Science and Office of Nuclear Energy Workshop

The workshop on nuclear energy takes place on May 11 and 12, 2009 at the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City, Washington DC.

Workshop Vision

This joint Office of Science and Office of Nuclear Energy workshop has one vision. It is to identify what scientific and engineering challenges need to be met in order to accelerate the use of nuclear energy systems in a safe manner. The workshop focuses on how to implement advanced modeling and simulation at extreme scales to meet these challenges and improve U.S. energy security. This workshop will result in recommendations that the Offices of Science and Nuclear Energy can use to guide its research and development investments.

Background: Today, energy and the energy security of the United States are important national issues. According to one definition of energy security, it is the impact of ways we obtain energy for the U.S. economy:

  • National Security - dependence on unreliable sources that require protection
  • Economic Security - need for assured supplies at affordable prices
  • Environmental Security - obtaining energy in ways that does not harm the environment

Over the last 50 years, nuclear energy has proven itself as a safe, reliable, and domestic source of energy. Perhaps most importantly, it already provides over 70% of the U.S. non-carbon-emitting energy. U.S. energy security can improve considerably, if the country were to expand the use of nuclear energy. This would complement efforts to increase renewable energy sources and expand conservation.

Technical Challenges: Safely and reliably expanding the use of nuclear energy poses some significant technical challenges. These are associated with the need to:

  • Extend the life of existing nuclear reactor plants
  • Building and operating new reactors of advanced designs
  • Developing innovative uses for nuclear energy (e.g. producing hydrogen)
  • Closing the nuclear fuel cycle and responsibly dealing with long term waste

To overcome these challenges, we need a greatly improved scientific understanding of the processes involved with nuclear fuels and reactors. We also must develop a better understanding of how to safeguard separations processes and how to create long term waste disposal sites. To achieve this improved insight, we must expand the basic science of the underlying physical processes and apply it to the physical systems required to meet the challenges listed above.

Applying Science through Modeling and Simulation: Over the past decade, the Department of Energy has employed advanced modeling and simulation to apply science (1st principles) based understanding to large, complex, tightly-coupled systems. Such simulations and modeling have been applied to the operation of nuclear weapons, the behavior of materials in hostile environments, and the fluid dynamical turbulence of automobiles. This workshop builds on this experience as well as the results of previous 2006 workshops on nuclear energy modeling and simulation. It plans to develop recommendations for the Department on how to apply this experience to the technical challenges that currently limit the expanded use of nuclear energy.

Focus Areas: Obviously this workshop cannot address the full range of science issues involved with nuclear energy systems. Therefore, the highest priority will be to focus on the following areas that will be explored in White Papers prepared for the workshop (see page 6 below):

  • Performance Issues Surrounding Integrated Nuclear Energy Systems: These issues include but are not restricted to reactor core and safety simulations, nuclear fuel performance simulations, separations and safeguard simulations, waste forms and repository simulations, and materials simulations.
  • Materials Behavior: These issues include understanding the behavior of the materials in existing reactors that have undergone exposure to hostile conditions. This area will also cover the ability to create advanced materials that can be used in future systems with improved behavior properties.
  • Verification, Validation, and Uncertainty and Risk Quantification: This area will discuss the challenges of verification, validation and uncertainty quantification for the advanced modeling and simulation of fission nuclear energy systems. It will explore possible methods that could contribute to understanding how to better quantify the overall risk of nuclear energy systems.
  • Systems Integration: The use of modeling and simulation to understand the interactions between complex nuclear systems from the energy source itself up to and including the entire fuel cycle.

Underlying each of these topic areas is the fact that advances in modeling and simulation are enabled by the availability of advanced high performance computing systems. This was seen in the previous successes in the Department of Energy and continues until today. In recent months, the Department has been responsible for the introduction of petaFLOP/s computers at both Los Alamos and Oak Ridge National Laboratories that are being used to create new levels of understanding of complex systems.

Over the next decade, we anticipate that the pace of computing power growth will continue and that it may be realistic to expect exaFLOP/s level power. Therefore as workshop considers its recommendations, it will identify the technical and scientific challenges that could be addressed with such levels of computing power. Also, where appropriate, the workshop will identify the issues and opportunities concerning the use of these systems and their evolving architectures and programming model for the simulations that arise in nuclear energy.

Conclusions: The joint Office of Science and Office of Nuclear Energy workshop on Advanced Modeling and Simulation will occur at a critical time. The United States and the world are likely in the early stages of a nuclear renaissance in which nuclear fission energy, along with many other forms of energy, is being developed and deployed to provide abundant “carbon-free” power. If this leads to multi-terawatt deployment of nuclear power in this century, new nuclear reactor, fuel, and fuel cycle technologies will be needed. Furthermore, these technologies will call for new levels of system integration.

Development of the new technologies and associated analytical tools is an expensive multi-decadal proposition, and we must embark on program development expeditiously if we are to meet the needs in a timely way. The questions for this workshop are: What are the critical issues for accelerating the development and deployment of these new reactor, fuel and fuel cycle technologies? Can advanced modeling and simulation at the extreme scale play a key role? What are the DOE program requirements for developing and implementing the essential tools? We believe this workshop can play a seminal role in understanding the issues and possible solutions.