SUBJECT: Ph.D. Dissertation Defense
BY: Cal Abel
TIME: Friday, October 13, 2017, 3:00 p.m.
PLACE: Boggs, 3-47
TITLE: Integrating Thermal Energy Storage and Nuclear Reactors: A Technical and Policy Study
COMMITTEE: Dr. Bojan Petrovic, Chair (ME)
Dr. S. Mostafa Ghiaasiaan (ME)
Dr. Anna Erickson (ME)
Dr. Marilyn Brown (PUBP)
Dr. Valerie Thomas (ISYE)
Dr. Eric Loewen (GEH)


Nuclear energy faces significant economic challenges in the United States. With the recent plant closures and construction cancellations, the current business model is inadequate for the current environment. This dissertation identifies how and why the business model is failing and proposes a new model using existing technologies. This study takes conventional pool-type Sodium Fast Reactors, SFR, and couples them with thermal energy storage, using the exact same technology used in current solar thermal projects. This marriage segregates the load and services provided by the power conversion system from the kinetics of the reactor(s). The combined system can now access the entire electrical market and supply the entire load profile of the network, while maintaining a high capacity factor, 92% for the nuclear reactors. It also allows the facility to bootstrap the grid in the event of a station blackout. Restoring the electrical grid is entirely unheard of and not possible for current generation nuclear reactors. The new hybrid system was bench-marked against the reference design SFR, General Electric Hitachi’s Power Reactor Innovative Small Module (PRISM). The reference PRISM design was bench-marked against publicly available information. This verified the modeling approach and allowed comparison between the safety performance of hybrid and conventional designs. The hybrid design’s efficacy was tested under a set of scenarios originally proposed and used by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to evaluate the original PRISM. These tests were run using Reactor Excursion Leak Analysis Program, RELAP5-3D, and showed that the hybrid design increased plant safety margins, with minimal overall design changes.