Nuclear simulation lab

A NuScale representative conducts training on the nuclear power plant control room simulator for students and faculty at the Center for Advanced Energy Studies.

A new simulation lab in Idaho Falls will allow users and state research entities to learn more about nuclear energy and reactor technology.

The Center for Advanced Energy Studies (CAES) announced in a Tuesday news release that it was opening its newest laboratory, the Small Modular Reactor Simulator Laboratory.

“CAES’ goal is to educate and train the future energy workforce and this is a great tool for doing that,” said Matthew Evans, the center’s communications lead.

The center is a research, education and innovation consortium which consists of Idaho National Laboratory, Boise State University, Idaho State University and the University of Idaho. Its headquarters are in Idaho Falls.

In 2019, CAES-affiliated University of Idaho professor Richard Christensen obtained a $286,000 grant to fund the laboratory through the Department of Energy’s Nuclear Energy University Program, the release said. Christensen is the principal of the project.

Using NuScale Power’s simulation technology, the simulation lab will allow users to assume the role of an operator and learn more about nuclear science with a virtual nuclear power plant control room. The lab is the second of three planned NuScale Energy Exploration Centers, according to a Tuesday NuScale news release.

NuScale is a private company that designs and markets small modular reactors. The first one of these simulation labs opened at Oregon State University in 2019. A third will be installed at Texas A&M University.

“The opening of our second Energy Exploration Center is an incredible step forward in broadening the understanding of advanced nuclear technology through the power of STEM education and research,” said José Reyes, NuScale co-founder and chief technology officer, in an email to the Post Register. “NuScale is extremely proud to be partnering with the University of Idaho at the Center for Advanced Energy Studies to bring the Energy Exploration Center to life and allow users to experience the role of control room operator to learn more about the innovative features and functionality of NuScale’s Small Modular Reactor technology.”

Evans said CAES will demonstrate the lab to community leaders, K-12 students and interested residents. The center is currently closed to the public due to the pandemic.

“The year before COVID-19 hit, we had about 2,000 people come through CAES,” Evans said. “This is another great feature we can show to the public. We look forward to doing that once we can get the doors open.”

The new lab also will help the CAES entities research and demonstrate safe, secure and resilient microgrid systems, the center’s release said.

NuScale’s simulated reactor is the first to receive design approval from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, according to the CAES release. The first module is expected to be fully commercially operational by the end of the decade. Tentative plans call for the first NuScale power plant to be constructed at Idaho National Laboratory as part of the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems Carbon Free Power Project.

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