Nuclear Energy and Safety Research DivisionThe Paul Scherrer Institute has a long tradition in energy research. With respect to nuclear energy, PSI has a unique position in Switzerland. This is due to its heavy infrastructure, namely the Hot Laboratory with so-called hot cells, well equipped and shielded zones for work and research on radioactive material. In addition, the nuclear energy division takes advantage of PSI's large facilities like the Swiss Light Source (SLS) and the Swiss Spallation Neutron Source (SINQ).
Based on this infrastructure and the know-how of its collaborators the Division is involved in three main topics of research: Safety of currently operating light-water reactors, safety characteristics of future reactor concepts and related fuel cycles, and long-term safety of deep geological repositories for nuclear wastes of all kind.
The work is being done on behalf of the Federal Government and in close cooperation with the Swiss nuclear utilities, the national waste management organization, Nagra, and the national regulatory authority, ENSI. It also includes scientific services for the nuclear power plants. Most of the research is connected with international projects on a multi- or bi-national cooperation basis.
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The Accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, which occurred in March 2011, had a very strong impact on the nuclear community. Three reactors suffered core damage and fission products were released to the environment. Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) has participated in an Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) project, Benchmark Study of the Accident at the Fukushima (BSAF). The project aimed to evaluate and analyse the accident progression, likely end-state of the reactor core after the accidents, and the release of radioactivity to the environment. PSI has concentrated on the analysis of unit 3 using MELCOR 2.1. Hundreds of calculations have been performed and a plausible scenario which predicted remarkably well the main signatures has been selected.
Hydrogen is at the source of degradation mechanisms affecting mechanical properties of many structural metal materials. In nuclear power plants, zirconium alloy fuel cladding tubes take up a part of the hydrogen from coolant water due to oxidation. Because of the high mobility of hydrogen interstitial atoms down temperature and concentration gradients and up stress gradients, hydrogen distribution in fuel claddings can often be non-uniform, arising the risk for the integrity of spent fuel rods under mechanical load. At the Laboratory of Nuclear Materials (LNM) in collaboration with the Laboratory of Neutron Scattering and Imaging (LNS), hydrogen redistribution in zirconium alloys was quantified by neutron radiography using the state-of-the-art detector of PSI Neutron Microscope, and the concentration was computed based on thermodynamics, to predict hydrogen diffusion and precipitation for used nuclear fuel.