Tag Archives: INDE

Nuclear winter school

I spent the first full-week of January 2019 at a Winter School for a pair of Centres for Doctoral Training focussed on Nuclear Energy (see NGN CDT & ICO CDT).  Together the two centres involve eight UK universities and most of the key players in the UK industry.  So, the Winter School offers an opportunity for researchers in nuclear science and engineering, from academia and industry, to gather together for a week and share their knowledge and experience with more than 80 PhD students.  Each student gives a report on the progress of their research to the whole gathering as either a short oral presentation or a poster.  It’s an exhausting but stimulating week for everyone due to both the packed programmme and the range of subjects covered from fundamental science through to large-scale engineering and socio-economic issues.

Here are a few things that caught my eye:

First, the images in the thumbnail above which Paul Cosgrove from the University of Cambridge used to introduce his talk on modelling thermal and neutron fluxes.  They could be from an art gallery but actually they are from the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and show the geometry of an advanced test reactor [ATR] (top); the rate of collisions in the ATR (middle); and the neutron density distribution (bottom).

Second, a great app for your phone called electricityMap that shows you a live map of global carbon emissions and when you click on a country it reveals the sources of electricity by type, i.e. nuclear, gas, wind etc, as well as imports and exports of electricity.  Dame Sue Ion told us about it during her key-note lecture.  I think all politicians and journalists need it installed on their phones to check their facts before they start talking about energy policy.

Third, the scale of the concrete infrastructure required in current designs of nuclear power stations compared to the reactor vessel where the energy is generated.  The pictures show the construction site for the Vogtle nuclear power station in Georgia, USA (left) and the reactor pressure vessel being lowered into position (right).  The scale of nuclear power stations was one of the reasons highlighted by Steve Smith from Algometrics for why investors are not showing much interest in them (see ‘Small is beautiful and affordable in nuclear power-stations‘ on January 14th, 2015).  Amongst the other reasons are: too expensive (about £25 billion), too long to build (often decades), too back-end loaded (i.e. no revenue until complete), too complicated (legally, economically & socially), too uncertain politically, too toxic due to poor track record of returns to investors, too opaque in terms of management of industry.  That’s quite a few challenges for the next generation of nuclear scientists and engineers to tackle.  We are making a start by creating design tools that will enable mass-production of nuclear power stations (see ‘Enabling or disruptive technology for nuclear engineering?‘ on January 28th, 2015) following the processes used to produce other massive engineering structures, such as the Airbus A380 (see Integrated Digital Nuclear Design Programme); but the nuclear industry has to move fast to catch up with other sectors of the energy business, such as gas-fired powerstations or wind turbines.  If it were to succeed then the energy market would be massively transformed.


Fourth industrial revolution

Have you noticed that we are in the throes of a fourth industrial revolution?

The first industrial revolution occurred towards the end of the 18th century with the introduction of steam power and mechanisation.  The second industrial revolution took place at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century and was driven by the invention of electrical devices and mass production.  The third industrial revolution was brought about by computers and automation at the end of the 20th century.  The fourth industrial revolution is happening as result of combining physical and cyber systems.  It is also called Industry 4.0 and is seen as the integration of additive manufacturing, augmented reality, Big Data, cloud computing, cyber security, Internet of Things (IoT), simulation and systems engineering.  Most organisations are struggling with the integration process and, as a consequence, are only exploiting a fraction of the capabilities of the new technology.  Revolutions are, by their nature, disruptive and those organisations that embrace and exploit the innovations will benefit while the existence of the remainder is under threat [see [‘The disrupting benefit of innovation’ on May 23rd, 2018].

Our work on the Integrated Nuclear Digital Environment, on Digital Twins, in the MOTIVATE project and on hierarchical modelling in engineering and biology is all part of the revolution.

Links to these research posts:

Enabling or disruptive technology for nuclear engineering?’ on January 28th, 2015

Can you trust your digital twin?’ on November 23rd, 2016

Getting Smarter’ on June 21st, 2017

‘Hierarchical modelling in engineering and biology’ [March 14th, 2018]


Image: Christoph Roser at AllAboutLean.com from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Industry_4.0.png [CC BY-SA 4.0].

Enabling or disruptive technology for nuclear engineering?

INDEA couple of weeks ago [see ‘Small is beautiful and affordable in nuclear power-stations’  on January 14th, 2015] I ranted about the need to develop small modular reactors whose components can be mass-produced in a similar way to the wings, cockpit, tail-planes, fuselage and engines of an Airbus aeroplane that are manufactured in factories in different countries in Europe prior to final assembly and commissioning in Toulouse, France. The aerospace industry is heavily dependent on computer-aided engineering to design, test, manufacture, operate and maintain aircraft in a series of processes involving a huge number of organisations. The civil engineering and building services industries are following the same model through the introduction of BIM, or Building Information Modelling. I have recently suggested that the nuclear industry needs to adopt the same approach through an Integrated Nuclear Digital Environment (INDE) that has the potential to reduce operating and decommissioning costs and increase reliability and safety for existing and planned power-stations but more importantly would enable a move towards mass-production of modular power-stations.

Recently I presented a paper at a NAFEMS seminar on Modelling and Simulation in the Nuclear Industry held on November 19th 2014 in Manchester, UK.  To judge from the Q&A session afterwards, the paper divided the audience into those who could see the enormous potential (the enablers?) and those who saw only massive problems that rendered it unworkable (the potentially disrupted?). The latter group tends to cite the special circumstances of the nuclear industry associated with its risks and regulatory environment. These are important factors but are not unique to the industry. From my perspective of working with many other industrial sectors, the nuclear industry is unique in its slow progress in exploiting the potential of digital technologies.  Perhaps in the end, as one of my academic colleagues believes, research on solar power will produce such efficient solar cells that even in cold and cloudy England we will be able to meet all of our power needs from solar energy [given incoming solar radiation is about 340 Watts/square meter], in which case perhaps the nuclear power industry will become extinct unless it has evolved.

Schematic diagram showing the digital environment (second column from left in purple), its relationships to the real-world (left column in red) and the potential added value (third column from left) together with exemplar applications (right column). Coloured arrows are processes and coloured boxes represent physical (red) or digital (purple) infrastructure.

Schematic diagram showing the digital environment (second column from left in purple), its relationships to the real-world (left column in red) and the potential added value (third column from left) together with exemplar applications (right column). Coloured arrows are processes and coloured boxes represent physical (red) or digital (purple) infrastructure [from Patterson & Taylor, 2014].

The diagram is an extract from Patterson & Taylor, 2014.  The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author and not necessarily of those of his co-authors on other publications, or their employers.