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Research Highlight: Ivan Maldonado, Brian Wirth, and Jamie Coble

Ivan MaldonadoIvan Maldonado (at top right), associate professor, and Brian Wirth (at middle left), Governor’s Chair Professor, both of the Department of Nuclear Engineering, are leading a team that is looking at nuclear reaction safety and performance. Maldonado’s team will try to analyze and evaluate fuels that are more tolerant to accidents, helping with overall safety and easing some of the concerns the public has about nuclear energy. The team, which includes researchers from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), will study how those fuel ideas perform in an effort to increase efficiency.

Dr. Brian Wirth“The nature of commercial nuclear power is such that it consistently aims to maximize power generation while minimizing cost and waste production,” said Maldonado. “At the same time, reactor designers and researchers work to develop nuclear fuels that enhance safety and mitigate or even completely eliminate the risks associated with current fuels.”

Jamie Coble (at lower left), an assistant professor in the Department of Nuclear Engineering, is developing new ways of monitoring and calibrating at nuclear facilities. Coble’s project, which UT is collaborating on with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, will aid the Nuclear Energy Enabling Technologies Advanced Sensors and Instrumentation program in helping nuclear engineers more efficiently design and run facilities while increasing safety.

Jamie Coble“Currently, inspections and calibrations are commonly done when reactors are taken offline,” said Coble, who explained that typically occurs about once every eighteen months. “This approach is time-consuming and expensive, it contributes to radiation exposure for plant workers, and unnecessary maintenance actions can potentially damage sensors, meaning you can wind up doing as much harm as good.”

The PNNL team includes members from Knoxville-based Analysis and Measurement Service Corporation, run by UT alumnus Hash Hashemian, and researchers from the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute and Chosun University.

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