Scientific Highlights from Research Division "Nuclear Energy and Safety" (NES)

Scientific Highlights

13 November 2017

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Signal Noise Analysis in Nuclear Reactors: when the disturbing role of noise becomes valuable

Noise appears in many areas of science, and commonly has an unwanted and disturbing nature by deteriorating signals’ quality. Therefore, various techniques have been developed over the years for separating noise from pure signals. However, noise has a key role in signal analysis of nuclear reactors as its’ appropriate assessment can be used not only for exploring the normal and dynamic behaviour of nuclear cores, but also for identifying and detecting possible anomalies of reactor systems. State of the art methods have been recently implemented within the well-established signal analysis methodology of the STARS program, at the Laboratory for Reactor Physics and Systems Behaviour (LRS), for investigating nuclear reactor noise and getting a better insight on analysing reactors’ operation.

3 October 2017


Pt nanoparticles: The key to improved stress corrosion cracking mitigation in boiling water reactors

The formation and growth of cracks by stress corrosion cracking (SCC)in reactor internals and recirculation pipes due to the highly oxidising environment is a serious issue in boiling water reactors. At first, SCC mitigation was attempted by injecting H2 into the feed water, where the injected H2 recombines with the H2O2 and O2 to water and reduces the electrochemical corrosion potential, and consequently the SCC susceptibility. Several disadvantages of the injection of high amounts of H2, have led to the development of noble metal additions to the reactor feed water. With injection of a much smaller amount of H2, the noble metal particles of a few nanometres in size, formed in-situ, work as catalysts for the efficient reduction of the oxidizing species formed by radiolysis, and thus lower the ECP and SCC susceptibility.

15 September 2017

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Sorption of trivalent lanthanides and actinides onto montmorillonite

The credibility of long-term safety assessments of radioactive waste repositories may be greatly enhanced by a molecular level understanding of the sorption processes onto individual minerals present in the near- and far-fields. A study conducted at LES in collaboration with the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden Rossendorf used extended X-ray absorption fine structure (EXAFS) and time-resolved laser fluorescence spectroscopies (TRLFS) to elucidate the uptake mechanism of trivalent lanthanides and actinides (Ln/AnIII) by the clay mineral montmorillonite.The excellent agreement between the thermodynamic model parameters obtained by fitting the macroscopic data, and the spectroscopically identified mechanisms, demonstrates the mature state of the 2SPNE SC/CE sorption model developed at LES for predicting and quantifying the retention of Ln/AnIII elements by montmorillonite-rich clay rocks.

22 May 2017

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Spent Fuel Neutron Emission Work Receives Awards at ANS Conference

Spent fuel characterization is necessary to improve nuclear fuel design, optimize core refueling patterns and manage the handling, transport and storage of spent fuel assemblies. The experimental characterization of spent fuels includes measuring their gamma and neutron emissions typically with high-purity Germanium and He-3 detectors. In the past few years, however, efforts to develop efficient and low-cost, fast and thermal, neutron detectors have guided the research to the development of new scintillation detectors. These scintillators offer good efficiency, fast-timing properties, and good pulse shape discrimination capabilities for dual gamma and neutron detection. As collaboration between the Laboratory for Reactor Physics and Systems Behaviour (LRS) and Laboratory for Thermal-Hydraulics (LTH), a preliminary analysis was performed through Monte Carlo simulations to design a measurement unit at the HOTLAB based on new scintillators for the detection of fast neutrons emitted by spent fuel. This semester work of Marianna Papadionysiou was presented at the ANS Student conference in April and received two awards for "Best Detection and Measurement" and "Best Overall Research".

19 April 2017

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BKW and PSI agree on partnership for safety analysis services

BKW’s Engineering Division and the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) joined forces to provide risk and safety analysis services in the nuclear sector. By combining their expertise, the two companies are able to solve highly complex problems in the field of nuclear safety. The range of joint services is aimed at customers from the power plant sector and supply industry, as well as public and state institutions. The collaboration will focus exclusively on the international (non-Swiss) market.

14 February 2017

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PERFORM-60: Modelling the Ageing of Reactor Vessel Steels

The main threat to the reactor pressure vessel (RPV) operational safety is certainly the radiation damage that hardens and embrittles the steel it is made of. Four decades of research worldwide have allowed understanding and monitoring the phenomena that come into play. At the computational level, a simulation platform, PERFORM-60, has the ambitious aim of predicting the steel evolution for most RPV and operational conditions. It was initially elaborated in the frame of the EU project of the same acronym and is currently further developed to be the end-product of the on-going H2020 EU project SOTERIA. As a contribution of the Laboratory for Reactor Physics and Systems Behaviour (LRS) to SOTERIA, the platform has been rigorously assessed for the first time since its release on a real case study of a Swiss RPV. This critical assessment has been acknowledged by the community and serves as basis for improvements and future developments of the platform within SOTERIA.

20 December 2016

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The Dynamics of Nuclear Reactors

Nuclear reactor dynamics deals with the transient behaviour of nuclear reactors which mostly refers to time changes of the imbalance between heat production and removal. Since the prediction of the dynamic behaviour is crucial for the safety of a reactor, computational models and methodologies have been developed in the framework of the STARS project, at the Laboratory for Reactor Physics and Systems Behaviour (LRS), with the main goal to simulate the complex behaviours of reactors under various conditions with a high level of fidelity.

19 October 2016


Radioactive targets produced at PSI enable improving the Big Bang Theory

One of the long-lasting unsolved problems in Nuclear Astrophysics is the so-called "Cosmological Li Problem", i.e. the large discrepancy between the primordial 7Li abundance predicted by models of Big Bang Nucleosynthesis and the one inferred from astronomical observation. The study of the production/destruction rates of the radioactive precursor 7Be is one of the clues for solving this problem. Scientists from PSI were able to manufacture two highly radioactive 7Be-targets for the measurement of the 7Be(n,α) cross section at n_TOF CERN. The activity was extracted from the cooling water of the neutron spallation source SINQ. As a result of the experiment, the investigated reaction could be ruled out as responsible for the problem. The innovative work on isotope and target production as well as the new measurement techniques specifically developed for this kind of experiments make further investigations on this "hot topic" feasible. The work has been published in Physical Review Letters and has been selected for the Editor’s Suggestion of the corresponding issue.

28 September 2016

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Infrared imaging sheds new light on the condensation/evaporation process

Researcher at PSI (NES/LTH) have brought modern infrared technologies into their large thermal-hydraulic facility, called LINX, to obtain insights into condensation/evaporation process occurring under thermodynamic conditions resembling those of a nuclear power plant containment during a severe accident scenario. In such a scenario, condensation is of prime importance to control the thermodynamic state of the containment. It affects the pressure history, the overall gas (steam, hydrogen) and fission product distribution within this last barrier. Better understanding of these phenomena under accident conditions is essential to properly predict the accident evolution.

14 September 2016

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Post Irradiation Examination of MEGAPIE – How radiochemical analytics helps looking inside a high-power liquid metal spallation target

PSI radiochemists now finished the radiochemical analysis of the residue nuclei production in the Lead-Bismuth Eutectic (LBE) of the MEGAPIE target. Twenty – mostly safety-relevant – radionuclides could be identified and quantified. Comparisons with theoretical predictions show acceptable agreement in most cases, but also considerable discrepancies for some selected radionuclides. Moreover, the scientists learned that noble elements like Gold, Silver, Mercury or Rhodium are homogeneously distributed in the bulk LBE, while others, sensitive to reduction/oxidation (Lanthanides, Iodine, Chlorine), tend to accumulate at exposed positions like vessel walls and free surfaces. These results will help to improve models and codes for predictions and, thus, will improve the safety of existing and future facilities.

26 August 2016

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The chemical state of 79Se in spent nuclear fuel

An interdisciplinary study conducted at different PSI laboratories (LES, AHL, LRS, SYN) in collaboration with Studsvik AB (Sweden) demonstrates that selenium originating from fission in light water reactors is tightly bound in the crystal lattice of UO2. This finding has positive consequences for the safety assessment of high-level radioactive waste repository planned in Switzerland, as it implies (contrary to previous assumptions) that the safety-relevant radionuclide 79Se will be released at extremely low rates during aqueous corrosion of the waste in a deep-seated repository.