Nuclear reactor analyses to ensure the reliability of Polish nuclear power plants
A recently established team of experts at the Institute for Nuclear Studies (IPJ) in ?wierk near Warsaw, Poland is to run computer simulations of the operation of nuclear power plants. The aim of the team is to deepen the understanding of the processes that occur at every stage of the operation of atomic power plants and to train a team of specialists who will ensure the safe operation of future nuclear installations in Poland.
Safety is of paramount importance in any nuclear power engineering-related endeavor. Many computer simulations are therefore required prior to the construction of the first nuclear power plant in Poland. The simulations of various nuclear power plants will allow to gauge their respective security levels and, at a later stage, to determine the working procedures for their operators. “Any country which embraces nuclear power engineering has to have the appropriate knowledge of nuclear power plants to ensure their safe operation. Most of this knowledge is gained from thousands of computer simulations”: observes Tomasz Jackowski, the head of the recently established Nuclear Reactor Analysis Group at the Institute for Nuclear Studies in ?wierk near Warsaw, Poland.
Nuclear reactor analyses consist in conducting, with the use of specialized software, multiple simulations of the phenomena that occur or may occur during the ordinary operation of a nuclear power plant as well as the least probable emergency situations. “The level of security at present-day nuclear power plants is so high that the probability of certain phenomena is estimated to be one event per 10 million years of operation. Such rare cases are highly difficult to investigate without the use of computer simulations”: explains Jackowski. Nuclear reactor analyses allow to establish the procedures that will ensure that every problem at the nuclear power plant, even the least probable one, is instantly neutralized by the operators with no impact on the installation surroundings.
At the present stage of the nuclear power plant construction program in Poland, one of the principal aims is to establish a team of experts specialized in operating software development tools used in both American and European reactors. The software has been developed worldwide for several dozens of years and is constantly refined thanks to the data supplied by other groups of package users and power plant operators. “It takes up to ten years, apart from college education, to train first-rate specialists in nuclear power plant safety”: observes professor Wojciech Wi?licki, the head of the ?wierk Computing Centre construction project. During this period engineers with the required knowledge of physics and mathematics acquaint themselves with every stage of the operation of a power plant, from the very disintegration of the uranium nucleus, issues related to the interaction of particles in the reactor core, the construction of the reactor core, to heat transfer in water that acts as a coolant and other physical phenomena that occur inside the containment building.
At present, the members of the Nuclear Reactor Analysis Group are acquainting themselves with the tools that allow for the simulation of heat-flow phenomena within the reactor circuit, donated by the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. A prominent role within the reactor is played by water as it transports the heat into turbines. In the new generation of reactors, gravity-driven cooling systems allow for water to be circulated through the reactor without the use of pumps. The solution is infallible, given that gravity, unlike pumps and their power supply, will never break down. Nonetheless, the operators must have a clear understanding of the process of heat exchange in such a power plant.
Ultimately, the group in ?wierk is going to consist of a dozen or so people. At least two people are going to specialize in each suite of programs for a given type of power plant. The data obtained from simulations run by the group is going to be constantly compared with the results obtained by other groups of users, as part of an international cooperation. “In principle, the new types of nuclear power plants are designed for 60 years with possible extension to 80 years. One has to proceed with the utmost caution when deciding on the choice. One of our objectives is to provide an opinion that will subsequently allow to make the right choice”: concludes Jackowski.
Nuclear Reactor Analysis Group is a part of the ?wierk Computing Centre, a large computer centre currently being established. One of the objectives of the centre is to perform calculations related to the energy security of the country. The construction and launch of the centre require about 98 million zlotys. 85% of the project is funded by the European Regional Development Fund under Objective 2.3 Operational Programme Innovative Economy 2010-2015 and 15% by a grant-in-aid from the Ministry of Science and Higher Education.