Towards Autonomous Reactors! ...but what does that even mean?
Abstract: Recently, there has been a shift in focus in deployment scenarios for advanced nuclear power to consider more than just electricity generation. In some of these other applications, smaller reactors are considered better. To ensure the economic viability of the smaller systems there are some challenges to address. One challenge is advancing the autonomy of nuclear reactors... but what does that even mean? In this talk we will explore in more detail the context and motivation for the push for autonomy in commercial nuclear power. We will review some of the existing approaches to automation and describe how these might be improved. To facilitate our understanding of improving autonomy, we will also provide definitions for "levels of autonomy". Some possible approaches to enhancing the autonomy related to operations and maintenance is also discussed. Finally, we will present some recent progress in an ongoing project for enhanced automation of small modular reactors that is working towards some of these solutions.
Bio: Prof. Kochunas is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences at the University of Michigan where he received his PhD in Nuclear Engineering in 2013. During his time as a PhD student he initiated development of the MPACT code that became the main deterministic neutronics tool within the CASL (Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors) project and subsequently within VERA (Virtual Environment for Reactor Applications). MPACT was not only born out of his PhD research but has also become a central research tool in the work of more than 17 other PhD students in the NERS department. At Michigan he now leads the Nuclear Reactor Analysis and Methods (NuRAM) Group which continues to develop the MPACT code. More recently Prof. Kochunas has been performing work to develop technology for autonomous nuclear reactors, and is one of the inaugural recipients of the Department of Energy Office of Nuclear Energy Distinguished Early Career Program. His research interests include numerical methods for computational reactor physics, nuclear reactor design, reactor control, and digital twins. Prof. Kochunas also has degrees in nuclear engineering from the University of California Berkeley (MSE, 2008) and Purdue University (BSNE 2006).