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Nuclear Grant Projects Use GE Hitachi's SMR Technology

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted May 18, 2020
Advanced nuclear reactor technology developed by Wilmington-based GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy is being used as a guide in multi-million dollar grant projects through the U.S. Department of Energy, according to a news release.

GE Hitachi’s BWRX-300 small modular reactor, a 300-megawatt electric (MWe) water-cooled natural circulation small modular reactor (SMR), is serving as the reference design for the two projects, GE Hitachi officials said in the release.

GE Research and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have been awarded grants through the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and its Generating Electricity Managed by Intelligent Nuclear Assets (GEMINA) program to lead project teams that will develop digital twin technology for advanced nuclear reactors utilizing artificial intelligence and advanced modeling controls, stated the release.

All of the engineering work that GE Hitachi will conduct for these projects will occur at its Wilmington headquarters, said Jon Allen, spokesman for the firm, which is a provider of advanced reactors and nuclear services.

According to the release, GE Hitachi has made several significant strides toward the future commercialization of the BWRX-300 technology. The company started the U.S. regulatory process for the small modular reactor design in January.

In February, it submitted the design to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission for review.

In addition, several other countries, including Poland, the Czech Republic and Estonia, have expressed interest in the BWRX-300 as a part of their future energy mix, stated the release.

A GE Research-led team has received a $5.4 million grant through the program for a project that will build a digital twin of BWRX-300 critical components and utilize artificial intelligence predictive technologies to make risk-informed decisions, according to the release.

The team consists of members from Exelon Generation, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and the University of Tennessee.

And an MIT-led group, involving GE Research and GE Hitachi, received a $1.8 million grant for a project that will advance and demonstrate new predictive maintenance approaches and model-based fault system detection techniques, stated the release.

The digital twins, or replicas, will address mechanical and thermal fatigue failure modes that drive operations and maintenance activities, officials said in the release.

“The expertise and experience of the teams coming together for these projects are truly impressive,” Jon Ball, executive vice president of nuclear products for GE Hitachi, said in the release. “The use of AI and digital twins will complement the current development of this game changing clean energy solution and enhance our ability to further reduce operating costs.”

GE has developed and deployed more than 1.2 million digital twins within an array of products and services that span the aviation, transportation and energy sectors, including in nuclear energy, said Abhinav Saxena, a senior AI scientist at GE Research and project leader on the new grant project.

“We’re excited at the prospect of applying GE’s digital twin technology and our novel concept of Humble AI to advanced nuclear reactors,” Saxena said in the release. “Humble AI is part of a new lexicon of AI terms emerging, as AI becomes integrated into critical industrial infrastructure where safety, reliability and performance are paramount. It will allow us to deliver improved performance and services, while maintaining and even enhancing safety and reliability.”

GE already has been piloting its Humble AI technology with wind turbines in the field and gas turbine combustion, he said.

The goal with these two projects is to “bring those same benefits, along with reduced operational and maintenance costs and more plant automation, to the nuclear sector,” stated the release.

The digital twin and Humble AI technologies developed under this program are expected to have similar impacts on the nuclear sector, moving maintenance activities from time-based to condition-based maintenance and paving the path towards autonomous operations, stated the release.

“The team assembled by GE Research enables us to make great strides forward in safe, cost-effective maintenance optimization for the future nuclear power industry, combining the state of the art BWRX-300 reactor design with lessons learned from the current fleet of large-scale BWRs (Boiling Water Reactors) as a demonstration for risk-informed decision making,” said Jamie Coble, a professor in the Department of Nuclear Engineering at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.

Reducing operations and maintenance costs are essential to increasing the economic competitiveness of nuclear energy, officials said.
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