Nuclear reactor expert discusses ways to prevent Fukushima-like damage with scientists in Japan
Alireza Haghighat, a professor with the Nuclear Engineering Program in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Virginia Tech, recently explored research related to the 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex at an international meeting of physicists, engineers, and scientists in Kyoto, Japan.
The conference, organized by the American Nuclear Society and known as PHYSOR 2014, focused on advances in nuclear reactor physics.
With colleagues from Georgia Tech, Haghighat introduced scientists to advanced 3-D radiation transport methodologies and tools for fast and accurate simulation of reactor core and spent fuel pools, in addition to co-chairing a special session on research related to the Fukushima accident.
The impact of the Great East Japan Earthquake on the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex in 2011 led to a push for accident-tolerant fuel that is both safe and economical. In the United States, 100 nuclear reactors spread across 31 states produce close to 20 percent of the nation's electricity, according to the World Nuclear Association.
Haghighat has been involved in the development and modification of large computer codes for nuclear reactor simulations for nearly three decades.
He is currently Virginia Tech's representative in a $6 million Integrated Research Project led by Georgia Tech and funded by the Department of Energy to explore an "Integral Inherently Safe Light Water Reactor" concept and help safeguard against situations like Fukushima.
The project focuses on producing large amounts of power and with a novel fuel and a novel heat removal concept. This new accident-tolerant fuel will need to extend the period of time that a reactor can be without power, cooling, and human intervention to provide defense against seismic events, core damage, and radiation exposure.
Haghighat works within the Emerging Research Thrust at the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science in the Nuclear Science and Engineering Lab at the Virginia Tech Research Center in Arlington.
He has gained international recognition for his research in particle transport theory and its application in nuclear systems and is described by Richard Benson, dean of the College of Engineering, as “one of the most productive faculty members in the College of Engineering.”
Specifically, he is interested in radiation, and how to computationally measure radiation to reduce exposure via reducing the time it takes to measure radiation levels. In this case, even small decreases in exposure time can yield significant impact.