CAES connections abound in projects that receive NEUP, NEET funding

A number of faculty from CAES member universities are leading or collaborating on teams that recently received awards through DOE’s Nuclear Energy University Program (NEUP) and Nuclear Energy Enabling Technologies (NEET).

Congratulations to Amir Ali, R.A. Borelli, Ron Boring, Mary Lou Dunzik-Gougar, Mike Hurley, Dan LaBrier, Don McEligot, Chad Pope, Richard Schultz, Jonathan Scott, and Haiyan Zhao.

Several of the projects with CAES connections originated at the annual NUC-CAES Consolidated Innovative Nuclear Research Workshop held in August 2019, and a NEUP-funded project stemmed from the 2019 CAES Summer Visiting Faculty Program.

The NEUP and NEET awards for the CAESers listed below accounted for nearly $4.7 million of $65 million DOE awarded in nuclear energy research, cross-cutting technology development, facility access, and infrastructure awards for 93 advanced nuclear technology projects in 28 states.

Nuclear Energy University Program

NEUP seeks to maintain U.S. leadership in nuclear research across the country by providing top science and engineering faculty and their students with opportunities to develop innovative technologies and solutions for civil nuclear capabilities.

Nuclear Energy Enabling Technologies (NEET) Crosscutting Research Projects

NEET enables research to address crosscutting nuclear energy challenges that will help to develop advanced sensors and instrumentation and advanced manufacturing methods for multiple nuclear reactor plant and fuel applications.

“Investments in programs like these help strengthen American leadership in nuclear innovation by supporting the development of the next generation of talent,” Dr. Rita Baranwal, Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy, said in a news release. “DOE is committed to ensuring that researchers have access to cutting-edge infrastructure and lab capabilities to develop advanced nuclear technologies.”

Here’s a look at the projects with CAES connections:

  • Amir Ali, a CAES-affiliated Assistant Professor in Nuclear Engineering at Idaho State University, is leading a project in collaboration with fellow ISU faculty members Dan LaBrier, Chad Pope, and Jonathan Scott to upgrade the AGN-201M nuclear reactor at ISU. The project is one of 21 university-led projects awarded infrastructure grants through NEUP to perform research reactor and infrastructure improvements. The reactor at ISU is essential to advancing the Nuclear Engineering science knowledge and serves as a fundamental tool in the training of reactor operators, allowing students to gain valuable experience before entering the nuclear workforce. The reactor has been operating for more than a half-century, however, and the original control rod drive mechanism needs to be replaced in order to increase the reactor’s safety, performance, and reliability. Ali’s project, which received a $59,262 award, calls for replacing the control rod drive mechanism with a newly developed alternative design that reduces its complexity and probability of failure, and improves the overall reliability and safety of the reactor.
  • CAES-affiliated University of Idaho faculty member R.A. Borelli, an Assistant Professor in Nuclear Engineering, will help lead a $1 million NEET-funded project in partnership with Brookhaven National Laboratory to build an adaptive control and monitoring platform for autonomous operation of advanced nuclear reactors. Researchers will develop an artificial intelligence-based platform that can support autonomous control of advanced reactors. The platform will use and integrate information from multiple sensors and support systems to issue appropriate commands to plant systems to keep the reactor within a safe operating envelope and avoid unnecessary shutdown. The work will include a cost-benefit analysis to evaluate the performance of the platform and the anticipated cost savings from its deployment.
  • Mary Lou Dunzik-Gougar and Dan LaBrier, CAES-affiliated faculty members from Idaho State University, are collaborators along with INL researcher Wen Jiang on a project led by a researcher at University of Wisconsin that received an $800,000 NEUP award. The goal of the proposed research is to gain a mechanistic understanding of and develop a predictive model for the tearing of the buffer layer in tristructural isotropic (TRISO) fuel particles.
  • CAES Fellow Ron Boring of INL is a collaborator, along with INL researcher Vaibhav Yadav, on a University of Tennessee-led project that received an $800,000 award to develop a holistic artificial-intelligence tool to increase the detection and mitigation of human factors errors in nuclear power plants.
  • Boise State’s Mike Hurley, an Assistant Professor in the Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering, is Principal Investigator for a project that will lead to the installation of a 3D metal printer at the CAES facility, thereby establishing the capability to additively manufacture metallic nuclear grade materials at CAES and within the Nuclear Sciences User Facilities (NSUF) network. The project stems from Hurley’s participation in the 2019 CAES Summer Visiting Faculty Program (CSVFP) and includes his CSVFP partner Donna Guillen from INL and Boise State faculty members and fellow 2019 CSVFPP alumni Dave Estrada, who is the CAES Associate Director for Boise State, and Brian Jaques, the CAES Advanced Manufacturing Lead at Boise State. The amount of the NEUP award has not been determined.
  • Idaho State University Research Professor Richard Schultz and Don McEligot, an INL researcher and Visiting Professor with the University of Idaho, are collaborators on a project led by a researcher at City University of New York that aims to generate an experimental database for validating models used to analyze high-temperature gas reactors, to ensure passive cooling occurs when there is a loss of forced circulation or pressure. The project, which also includes industry partner Framatome, received $800,000 in NEUP funding.


  • CAES-affiliated University of Idaho Nuclear Engineering Assistant Professor Haiyan Zhao received a $400,000 NEUP award for a project she leads in collaboration with researchers from the University of Utah and University of Nebraska. The project’s objective is to improve fundamental understanding of the behavior of multicomponent fission products in eutectic chloride salts for pyroprocessing technology. Developed two decades ago by Argonne National Laboratory, the molten salt based pyroprocessing technology is the key for treating used nuclear fuels to close the nuclear fuel cycle. Throughout the process, the waste fission products from the used fuel (uranium and other heavy radioactive elements) are removed by electrorefining. The fission products including alkaline and rare earth elements in the used fuel ae dissolved as chlorides and accumulated in the used molten salt. Eventually, the concentration of these fission products increases to the point where the electrorefining must be moderated and shut down. This impacts the timing for salt treatment, recycle, and disposal. Most of the available data on this process is limited, making the timing hard to predict and simulate. This project will address that concern.
  • University of Idaho Chemical Engineering Professor Indrajit Charit received $799,950 over three years, in partnership with University of Nevada – Reno, to make spent nuclear fuel short-term storage safer by better understanding how welds on stainless steel fuel canisters respond to compressive stress, surface texture modification and corrosion. Charit also is a collaborator on a project led by Boise State’s Brian Jaques that won an award through the Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission last year.