UT engineering findings are "win-win" for nuclear industry

A University of Tennessee assistant nuclear engineering professor recently led a team of researchers from the school's college of engineering in studying the properties and performance of nuclear energy production materials and their response to highly ionizing radiation.

Mike Lang’s team at looked well-known elements such as uranium and thorium and other actinide materials with findings that could soon allow for tighter control over the unfavorable radiative effects on nuclear fuel.

“The systematic study of valence changes in irradiated actinide oxides showed that the redox behavior of the actinide elements governs the radiation tolerance of the nuclear material,” Lang said.

By using uranium and thorium as base materials and adjusting variable conditions, the UT research team was able to observe occurring changes in the redox rate, aiding in the discovery of the intricate relationship between variables and radiation behavior.

“The exposure to radiation degrades the performance and safety of nuclear fuels. By limiting the redox activity of actinide materials through control of composition or microstructure, we can mitigate radiation-induced swelling and microstrain of the nuclear material,” Lang said.

With these comprehensive findings, the team has ushered in the likelihood of creating more radiation-tolerant nuclear fuels.

“By increasing the performance and ‘shelf life’ of fuels in the intense radiation field of a nuclear reactor, the overall cost of energy production could be decreased while at the same time increasing power, a win-win for the industry and consumers,” Lang said.

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