How to design more efficient nuclear reactor

How to design more efficient nuclear reactor

Nuclear energy provides more carbon-free electricity in the United States than solar and wind combined, making it a key player in the fight against climate change. But the U.S. nuclear fleet is aging, and operators are under pressure to streamline their operations to compete with coal- and gas-fired plants.

One of the key places to cut costs is deep in the reactor core, where energy is produced. If the fuel rods that drive reactions there are ideally placed, they burn less fuel and require less maintenance. Through decades of trial and error, nuclear engineers have learned to design better layouts to extend the life of pricey fuel rods. Now, artificial intelligence is poised to give them a boost.

Researchers at MIT and Exelon show that by turning the design process into a game, an AI system can be trained to generate dozens of optimal configurations that can make each rod last about 5 percent longer, saving a typical power plant an estimated $3 million a year, the researchers report. The AI system can also find optimal solutions faster than a human, and quickly modify designs in a safe, simulated environment. Their results appear last month in the journal Nuclear Engineering and Design.

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Source: “Want cheaper nuclear energy? Turn the design process into a game”, Kim Martineau, MIT Quest for Intelligence