March 28, 2017

By Dave Vetrano, Lab Director

Labs like TerraPower’s feature a range of testing capabilities. Our Bellevue, Wash. facility offers the flexibility of utilizing small, targeted testing equipment while at the same time, we can set up nearly full-scale equipment mock-ups.

Both test types lend unique value as we seek to innovate only where it matters most. In fact, our smaller tests serve as building blocks for our larger mock-ups and models. The granular, component-to-component level data provided by small-scale testing validates how our models work. This builds confidence in the rigor of our research, so we can take the next step to build a full-scale mock-up.

Our use of kilns offers a great example of this process in action.

Kilns: an integral part of TerraPower’s laboratory equipment.
Kilns: an integral part of TerraPower’s laboratory equipment.

Since humankind’s earliest history, kilns have been used to make pottery, porcelain, bricks, and metals. Kilns can reach and sustain up to 2,000⁰F for long periods of time. Because of this, kilns offer an ideal platform to run targeted tests that simulate reactor-level heat. Using kilns, we explore how our metal components hold up after long exposure to specific temperatures. Some experiments run two to three months at a time.

Why is understanding the effect of heat on metal so important? Once operational, TerraPower’s traveling wave reactor (TWR) will produce heat up to 950⁰F (510⁰C). When exposed to such intense temperatures over long periods and combined with the reactor environment, metal tends to swell, deform and degrade. We need to understand exactly how temperature affects our components so they can remain in the reactor for a decade or more without needing to be replaced.

So far, one of our most important experiments using kilns produced data on how heat impacts our fuel assembly design. We designed and tested several steel fuel assembly structure configurations. These went into the kiln, and we gathered data on how the metal behaved when exposed to high heat. That data fed into the design of our full-scale fuel assembly test stand, where we are now testing the thermal-mechanical behavior of the assembly under prototypic conditions.

As you can see, experiments with equipment like kilns form just one small, but important, piece of our research and data validation. Check back soon to learn about more of the exciting work going on at TerraPower.