The Department of Energy approved the Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light-Water Reactors’ (CASL’s) “Phase 2” renewal to develop advanced computing capabilities that serve as a virtual version of existing, operating nuclear reactors—to enable nuclear energy to continue to provide dependable, affordable energy to America while advancing innovative research in an energy source central to achieving the President’s goals for a low-carbon energy future. CASL researchers will focus on extending the modeling/ simulation tools built during its first phase to include additional nuclear reactor designs, including small, modular reactors.
“As President Obama made clear during his State of the Union address, reducing carbon pollution and protecting the climate has to be a top priority,” said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. “CASL’s work to help further our understanding of nuclear reactors, improving safety while also making them more efficient, will help the transition to a low-carbon economy.”
“The work being done at the Energy Innovation Hub at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is an important part of our country’s ability to innovate and safely maintain our nuclear reactor fleet,” said Senator Lamar Alexander. “I’m glad to see the Consortium for the Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors remains a priority as we rely on nuclear power to provide the clean, cheap, reliable energy we need to power our 21st-century.”
Throughout its first five years, CASL has demonstrated significant progress, leveraging previous taxpayer investments in modeling/simulation tools that run on the world’s most powerful computers and applying them to the current generation of nuclear reactors. CASL also created innovative methods for the interoperation of software that simulates many physical behaviors found in reactors, improving the accuracy of simulation results.
CASL’s Virtual Environment for Reactor Applications (VERA), essentially a “virtual” reactor, has already been deployed for testing in the nuclear industry. VERA incorporates coupled physics and science-based models, state-of-the-art numerical methods, and modern computational architecture. It is being validated with data from a variety of sources, including operating pressurized water reactors (PWRs).
CASL, which is led by and headquartered at ORNL, boasts hundreds of technical reports and publications and wide engagement with nuclear-reactor technology vendors, utilities, and the advanced computing industry. Additional founding partners include: Westinghouse; the Electric Power Research Institute; Tennessee Valley Authority; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; North Carolina State University; University of Michigan; and the Idaho, Los Alamos, and Sandia national laboratories.
Sandia has a long history of providing world-class capabilities in nuclear energy safety and licensing and in advanced computational science and high-performance computing. CASL has been a tremendous opportunity for Sandia to provide technical leadership in these areas, and Sandia’s computational tools have played a principal role in creating the foundations of VERA architecture, including advanced multiphysics coupling methods, the DAKOTA optimization and uncertainty quantification (UQ) toolkit, and the Trilinos solver package library. Sandia’s nuclear energy and computational science expertise and technology will continue to play vital roles for CASL during Phase 2.
First established in 2010, the Energy Innovation Hubs are major integrated research centers, with researchers from many different institutions and technical backgrounds. They are modeled after the strong scientific management characteristics of the Manhattan Project, Lincoln Lab at MIT that developed radar, AT&T Bell Laboratories that developed the transistor and, more recently, the highly successful Bioenergy Research Centers established during the Bush Administration to pioneer advanced techniques in biotechnology, including biofuels.