Michigan researchers verify safety of Hitachi nuclear reactor

University of Michigan (UM) researchers, working with colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California at Berkeley, recently used computer simulations to verify the safety of an advanced nuclear reactor being developed by Hitachi, Ltd.

The new reactor could help solve the nuclear waste problem by burning off the  longest-lived radioactive materials, called transuranics, shortening the isolation period to a few centuries.

Following additional safety analysis, Hitachi plans to move forward with a prototype of the "resource-renewable boiling water reactor" in the next few years. One of the major technological hurdles for nuclear energy is developing systems to dispose of the waste produced by typical reactors. It must be sealed away for hundreds of millennia while the radioactivity naturally decreases.

Hitachi's new design would recycle the nuclear waste to produce yet more energy and reduce the amount that must be stowed.

UM Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences Professor Thomas Downar said that because of transuranics, fuel storage would take a number of lifetimes that cannot even be fathomed.

"You get this down to a hundred years, then you're talking about the ability to engineer a container that you have confidence will last that long," Downar said.

The university teams are about to begin a careful comparison of their methods with the predictions from the Hitachi computer codes to discover any differences in the simulation of the advanced reactor's performance. Hitachi will fund the teams at all three schools for the project’s next phases.