CORVALLIS - The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded researchers at the Department of Nuclear Engineering at Oregon State University $1.8 million to reconfigure a campus test facility and carry out extensive testing of a new, safer nuclear reactor design from Westinghouse called the AP1000.

The AP1000 design is for a nuclear power plant capable of producing about 1,100 megawatts of electricity. The plant features enhanced safety systems that rely on gravity and pressure differentials to safely shut down the reactor or mitigate the effects of an accident. It is designed for a 60-year operating life.

The announcement by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission that Westinghouse had applied to have its AP1000 standard design certified, coupled with the recent announcement by British Energy and British Nuclear Fuels, Ltd. stating that they are considering replacing their aging power plants in the United Kingdom with the AP1000 design, has generated wide interest.

"This is world-class research being performed here at Oregon State in a one-of-a-kind test facility," said OSU nuclear engineering professor José Reyes.

The OSU testing program, done on a scale model without nuclear fuel, will provide an assessment of the AP1000 safety systems as well as data to benchmark computer models of the plant. The NRC has expressed interest in contracting with OSU to perform additional confirmatory tests.

Four years ago, OSU researchers tested the precursor to the AP1000, the Westinghouse AP600. That project, which resulted in NRC certification, generated a total of $8 million in research funding for the university.

The ultimate benefactors of the funding, Reyes says, are nuclear engineering students.

"All of the students we are training right now will be getting hands-on experience with the AP1000," Reyes said. "This is cutting-edge nuclear power technology that is unavailable at any other research university."

With energy supplies tight worldwide, more companies are developing new, safer reactor designs that must be thoroughly tested before NRC certification is granted.

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Jose Reyes, 541- 737-7065