Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Kevin Bullis

A View from Kevin Bullis

Speeding New Materials for Nukes

Future nuclear power plants could benefit from advanced computer models.

  • November 26, 2007

Next-generation nuclear power plants could produce much less waste than conventional reactors, eliminating a serious objection to a potentially abundant and otherwise clean source of energy. But the new technology requires materials that can withstand both high temperatures and radiation. Using conventional methods, it could take decades to develop such materials. But new computer simulations could cut this time down to months, says Steven John Zinkle, a researcher at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Zinkle presented his recent work at the Materials Research Society conference in Boston.

The materials proven to work in today’s nuclear power plants operate within a small range of temperatures that won’t work in many new designs. Outside that range, the materials can become brittle or develop holes that make them look like “Swiss cheese,” Zinkle says. But researchers are learning that changing the composition of an alloy by a fraction of a percent can change its operating temperature by hundreds of degrees. Tweaking the heat treatment of the materials can also have a big effect. The problem is that sorting through the large number of possible subtle changes can take a very long time.

Zinkle says that computer modeling is making it possible to shrink development times from decades to months. Models allow researchers to quickly evaluate subtle changes without having to go through the time-consuming process of making a lot of slightly different materials. As a result, researchers have been able to identify small changes that, for example, transform materials that would normally break apart after a couple of days into materials that last for years without showing significant damage.

Oak Ridge researchers have already demonstrated the techniques with new materials for diesel engines, and they’re applying the techniques to speed the development of more environmentally benign nuclear power plants.

Couldn't make it to EmTech Next to meet experts in AI, Robotics and the Economy?

Go behind the scenes and check out our video
More from Sustainable Energy

Can we sustainably provide food, water, and energy to a growing population during a climate crisis?

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Print Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.