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INL improves control rooms for small nuke plants

Published December 24, 2013 5:45 pm

Energy • Idaho lab helping companies meet tough new rules.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Idaho Falls, Idaho • A flashing red light is all it takes to catch the eye of an operator in a nuclear power plant control room.

Quickly recognizing that light — and the problem it highlights — is of utmost importance: It could be the difference between business as usual and reactor problems.

And as companies prepare new reactor technology for the rigorous Nuclear Regulatory Commission's licensing process, Idaho National Laboratory is helping several of them determine the best ways to make control rooms user-friendly.

The lab is helping, in part, with Department of Energy funding — $830,000 during fiscal year 2013, to be exact.

These new reactors — called small modular reactors — are smaller nuclear reactors that are cheaper and easier to build than existing reactors. They could be made in factories and transported to sites where they would be put to use.

During fiscal year 2013, the DOE allocated $67 million nationally for cost-sharing agreements with companies looking to license small modular reactors, INL Director John Grossenbacher said about a month ago.

The DOE funding stems from a call for reactor projects with the potential for commercial operation by 2025. At least 50 percent of the money for the project must be provided by the company chosen, according to the department website.

For fiscal year 2014, the DOE requested $70 million in national cost-sharing agreements, Grossenbacher said.

Lab workers not only assist companies with control room simulation — using its "glasstop simulator, 15 touchscreen panels that can be rearranged into any shape to simulate control rooms" —they also help verify data for small-scale plant models and develop a reactor safety analysis code for the planned plant, said George Griffith, INL lead for Integration of Methods Development and Applications.