NSUF Article

How The Nuclear Science User Facilities (NSUF) Supports Industry Research

Tuesday, January 25, 2022 - Industry
Through the NSUF’s competitive proposal programs, the nuclear industry is supported with access to world-class research facilities.

A major goal of the Nuclear Science User Facilities (NSUF) is to offer unparalleled opportunities for nuclear energy researchers.  

Users are provided access (at no cost to the researcher) to world class nuclear research facilities, technical expertise from experienced scientists and engineers, assistance with experiment design, test vehicle assembly, irradiation safety analysis, and post irradiation examination.  

Through the NSUF’s competitive proposal programs, the nuclear industry is supported with access to these world-class research facilities to aid in achieving their individual missions.  

Boopathy Kombaiah is the instrument scientist for Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM) at the Irradiated Materials Characterization Laboratory (IMCL) and is the lead for the Reactor Structural Materials group.  

His research interests are radiation effects, mechanical behavior of materials, and electron microscopy. Boopathy currently provides research support for the following projects.

In an NSUF proposal led by Idaho National Laboratory (INL) scientists, the effects of swelling on embrittlement of 316 stainless steels were investigated with Westinghouse. Using the state-of-the-art facilities at INL, Boopathy characterized the microstructure of the stainless steels, which had been irradiated to high doses in the Experimental Breeder Reactor-II (EBR-II) reactor. The mechanical testing was performed at Westinghouse using their ring tensile tester, a unique experimental capability, to see how brittle the irradiated 316 stainless steels were. This work paves way for our understanding of how the integrity of reactor structural materials is affected while serving under nuclear reactor conditions. 

Another great example of an NSUF industry project was conducted with GE-Hitachi. INL worked with GE-Hitachi on the post irradiation examination of additive manufactured alloy 718 and 316 stainless steels. This research was executed to understand the radiation induced microstructural changes in the materials. In this project, INL worked on obtaining mechanical strength and toughness of the neutron irradiated materials using our mechanical testing equipment inside hot cells. As additive manufacturing becomes a critical area for building advanced nuclear reactors, the outcomes of the project are significant for qualifying the additive processes for advanced nuclear reactors.  

In an additional NSUF Rapid Turnaround Experiment (RTE) project led by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), 304 stainless steels were subjected to Irradiation Assisted Stress Corrosion Cracking (IASCC) testing at the University of Michigan. In this critical project, fundamental IASCC mechanisms are being investigated using TEM at INL facilities. IASCC causes cracking and failure in high corrosion resistant alloys that are used in nuclear reactors. Understanding the mechanisms becomes essential for developing mitigation steps and better IASCC resistant alloys.  

These are all examples of positive collaboration between industry and our national laboratory, where each entity has contributed with its unique capabilities.

Boopathy says, “it is satisfying to support the industries’ endeavors in materials development for the current and advanced nuclear reactors to meet our energy demands. INL’s world class research facilities and our expertise continuously help advance our knowledge on nuclear materials by answering crucial scientific questions.” 

Apart from being involved with industry projects, Boopathy also supports other NSUF RTE projects for universities. Last year, he supported projects led by students at both Texas A&M University and the University of New Mexico. This year, he will be working as a co-PI (Principal Investigator) for a project led by a student from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  

The NSUF program has built an excellent platform for industry members to collaborate with universities and national laboratories and is always here to help!