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MEPI Expert: The Future of Nuclear Power is in reliable modeling

Students of the National Nuclear Research University “MEPhI” (NRNU MEPI) are actively involved in testing codes that allow simulating the functioning of various elements in a nuclear power plant during the design of nuclear power facilities. Doctor of Physics and Mathematics, Deputy Director of the Institute of Nuclear Physics and Technology of the Research Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute NRNU MEPhI Georgy Tikhomirov told why modern atomic power engineering cannot survive without new codes.

Engineers and simulated reality

NRNU MEPhI has 75 years of experience in the training of nuclear engineers for the industry. This education organically combines physical and mathematical training with engineering competencies. The strong physical and mathematical basis taught in the university has practically not changed. As for the engineering training, the role of modeling has greatly increased. 40-60 years ago, a physicist had to design every experimental assembly, but now, modeling is being actively used to advance the real experiment well before its setup. This allows you to develop and optimize in virtual space objects that could previously be created only in hardware. For this purpose, computer programs or so-called codes are developed for modeling physical processes.

Cheats cut the budget

In recent years, MEPhI has been involved in a very important activity – independent testing of codes. These codes are needed in order to reduce the cost of designing nuclear power facilities, such as nuclear reactors. These codes allow you to achieve the required level of security without spending money on building prototypes.

Such codes are used in all areas of design. One of the most famous codes of this class is ANSYS, it is used to justify the safety of strength regimes in the automotive industry and aircraft industry. First, the image of the future product is modeled and only after that a real prototype is created. Codes that are developed in the framework of modeling the physical processes of nuclear energy are among the most complex ones. For example, it is possible to understand how TVEL behaves (a fuel element – the main structural element of the core of a heterogeneous nuclear reactor) in the core under different conditions. Or how the nuclear power plant normally works. The physical processes in the nuclear industry are specific, and therefore special codes are also needed. Each country has its own set of tools.

In Russia, we often encounter problems in code usability. It often happens that a specialist has developed a code, but no one else can use it. If you write a program that only you need, then you do not pay attention to the documentation, ignore testing all possibilities, and do not care for the service, technical support. Students and employees of the National Research Nuclear University MEPhI developed a procedure for independent testing of codes with regard to the “alienation” of the program from the creator.

“humanization” of the code

The developed procedure allows evaluating of the code by passing through the hands of students and teachers of the MEPhI. It needs to match a number of characteristics. At the moment, the requirements for such programs are formulated and test problems are developed. For each code, they are their own. There are dozens of such codes. Only the PRORYV project requires the use of about twenty codes (this project provides for the creation of new-generation nuclear power technologies based on a closed nuclear fuel cycle using fast-neutron reactors).

Students strive to make codes better, “humanize” them. It is absolutely clear to us that the future of code testing is in the nuclear industry of the future. After all, if some kind of computer program is written for millions of people, in a month the developer of the program will receive a dozen letters indicating vulnerabilities. And what if the program is used by only a few people? Indeed, according to statistics, less than one percent of real users provide useful feedback.

Was it possible to save Fukushima?

If every, even practically impossible, scenario of the behavior of the nuclear power units of the Fukushima nuclear power plant as a result of external influences had been tested, the real consequences of the accident could have been mitigated.

After the catastrophe happened, practically all the consequences of the accident were predicted with the help of modeling.

It should be especially emphasized that in the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, a completely unprecedented phenomenon has superimposed on each other: an earthquake of magnitude 9 points; a tsunami with a wave of 13 meters (before this, never in the history of the station were there waves of more than 7 meters high); all 4 blocks were cut off from electricity (it seemed almost impossible).

Therefore, it is in our interest to learn how to work with codes, to model as many different chains as possible, which can lead to accidents. It could help improve safety and choose the optimal behavior in the course of an accident.


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