NI and the Hydro-Mechanical Fuel Test Facility

The collaborative efforts of Oregon State University and the Idaho National Laboratory truly paid off in the formation of the Hydro-Mechanical Fuel Test Facility. Equipped with advanced hardware and software technology from National Instruments, this state-of-the-art facility continues to play a pivotal role in qualifying a new prototypic nuclear fuel for high-performance research reactors.

Nuclear energy has emerged as a crucial source of power for various applications, including research and test reactors (RTRs). However, with safety and non-proliferation concerns in mind, the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) mandated a transition to low-enriched uranium fuel compositions for civilian RTRs. This transition posed challenges for high-performance research reactors (HPRRs), as their existing setups could not accommodate the new fuel composition without compromising their functionality.

To address this challenge, a groundbreaking collaboration between Oregon State University (OSU) and the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) led to the development of a cutting-edge Hydro-Mechanical Fuel Test Facility (HMFTF). In this blog post, we will dive into the significance of the HMFTF and how it employs NI hardware and software to support the qualification of a new prototypic nuclear fuel while ensuring top-notch safety and quality.

Understanding the Challenge

The primary goal was to qualify a new nuclear fuel type for HPRRs, satisfying DoE’s mandate without compromising performance and safety. Converting HPRRs to the new fuel composition proved to be no easy task, necessitating a comprehensive research, development, and testing program.

The HMFTF emerged as a pivotal element in this ambitious project. Designed and constructed by the collaboration between OSU and INL, the facility provides essential experimental data to support the qualification process. The HMFTF operates within a nuclear-compliant quality assurance program, ensuring the highest standards for experimental conduct, performance, and data acquisition.

NI PXI Chassis on a blue to green gradient background

State-of-the-Art Technology

To achieve accurate and comprehensive data acquisition, the HMFTF relies on cutting-edge technology, including CompactRIO and PXI Express (PXIe) hardware from NI. These hardware series play a crucial role in fully quantifying all flow conditions required to deform the new prototypic nuclear fuel. The instruments, such as the 16-channel NI-9208 current input module, enable precise data collection and communication within the system.

NI’s LabVIEW system design software is the brain behind the HMFTF’s data acquisition and communication. It seamlessly integrates with the hardware, enabling engineers to monitor and control the facility with ease.

The HMFTF was designed to permit hydraulic testing of a full HPRR element while simulating a wide range of design basis accident conditions. This includes operation between lower safety system settings up to limiting conditions, which ensured that the facility operated within subcooled isothermal testing capabilities.

Birdseye view of Oregon State University campus
Oregon State University Campus

The facility’s data acquisition system employs three types of sensors:

Sensors 1: These sensors provide instrumentation signals solely to the Data Acquisition System (DAS) and are not required for control or monitoring of the facility.

Sensors 2: This category of sensors supplies instrumentation signals to both the DAS and the Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) and is considered quality data, vital for monitoring and control purposes.

Sensors 3: These sensors send data exclusively to the PLC and are essential for monitoring and controlling the online state of the facility.

The PAC (Programmable Automation Controller) system, equipped with CompactRIO chassis, handles the data processing, regulating system pressure, water level, fluid temperature, and flow control via flow control valves.

All data collected by the DAS and PAC are processed through the software interface, providing easy access for analysis. The HMFTF’s operational success not only supported the qualification of the new nuclear fuel but also established NI as a trustworthy partner in experimental projects.

As we move forward in advancing nuclear research, such cutting-edge solutions continue to shape the future of nuclear energy and safety.

The case study described in this post was originally published in 2014 and was authored by Wade R. Marcum.