Shaheen Dewji and Fan Zhang

Pictured left to right: Shaheen Dewji and Fan Zhang, assistant professors of nuclear and radiological engineering in the Woodruff School.

Georgia Tech Researchers Awarded $1M for Nuclear Energy Project

June 27, 2023
By Ashley Ritchie

Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology have been awarded $1 million from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for a nuclear energy research project through the Nuclear Engineering University Program (NEUP). NEUP seeks to maintain U.S. leadership in nuclear research nationwide by providing top science and engineering faculty and their students with opportunities to develop innovative technologies and solutions for civil nuclear capabilities.

Shaheen Dewji (lead PI) and Fan Zhang (co-PI), assistant professors of nuclear and radiological engineering in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering, were awarded one of 43 grants for their project, “Risk-Informed Consequence-Driven Hybrid Cyber-Physical Protection System Security Optimization for Advanced Reactor Sites.”

The project aims to develop an expanded methodology for designing a novel risk-informed cybersecurity-integrated physical protection system (PPS) framework for advanced reactor (AR) concepts that serve to reduce the operational costs for the life of a reactor against that of a traditional light water reactor PPS design, promoting efforts to credit safety features of advanced reactors through proposed amendments to current security regulations while integrating health and economic consequence analyses.

“This project is critical in integrating approaches traditionally treated disparately to create a comprehensive risk-informed approach to advanced reactor licensing,” said Dewji. “These risk-informed approaches come full circle through integrating physical security, cybersecurity, and reactor accident analysis in informing dose-based consequence-driven analysis as another metric of risk for licensing advanced reactor concepts.”

The researchers plan to enhance MELCOR's reactor accident progression analysis capabilities by combining it with HAZCADS cybersecurity framework. This will improve its capabilities in modeling risk-informed fault-tree analysis and system theoretic process analysis perturbations to source terms. Additionally, they will use dose-informed consequence assessment to generate source terms by expanding the capabilities of MACCS. This involves the generation of new dose coefficients for radionuclides specific to AR concepts and using Lagrangian modeling to improve atmospheric transport and near-field resolution for siting boundaries.

“The outcomes of this project could lead to the development of a new approach to streamline meeting regulatory requirements for ARs that are more risk-informed in an end-to-end. This could also ultimately make ARs more safe, secure and affordable, which could significantly impact the global energy landscape,” Dewji said.

The project brings together researchers from higher education and national laboratories. In addition to Dewji and Zhang, the team includes Professor and Department Head Karen Vierow Kirkland from Texas A&M University, as well as Chris Faucett, John Fulton, and Michael Rowland from Sandia National Laboratories.

Dewji joined Georgia Tech in 2021. She serves as director of the Radiological Engineering, Detection, and Dosimetry (RED²) Laboratory, focused on harnessing both computational capabilities in Monte Carlo radiation transport modeling, machine learning, and experimental measurements for applications in radiation detection, radiation protection and shielding, dosimetry, health physics, and nuclear materials accounting. This new award announcement comes as Dewji completes her role as co-PI on a NEUP project with Texas A&M University focused on physical-security concepts. She will continue to serve as co-PI on another NEUP project with the University of Michigan, focused on investigating metrology requirements for nuclear material accountancy in molten salt reactor components.

Zhang also joined Georgia Tech in 2021. She serves as the director of the Intelligence for Advanced Nuclear (iFAN) Lab, focused on the cybersecurity of nuclear facilities, online monitoring and fault detection using machine learning and AI and data analytics methods, instrumentation and control, and nuclear systems modeling and simulation. Last year, Zhang was awarded a Distinguished Early Career Award from the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy to develop a robot-assisted online monitoring and maintenance system for nuclear reactors. She will also serve as co-PI on another project through NEUP, “Cybersecurity in advanced reactor fleet by cyber-informed design, real-time anomaly detection, dynamic monitoring, and cost-effective mitigation strategies,” led by Associate Professor Kaibo Liu from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Since 2009, DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy has awarded more than $992 million to advance nuclear energy research and train the next generation of nuclear engineers and scientists.

RED² Laboratory Twitter