Building the Next Generation of Safety-Related Reinforced Concrete Structures for Nuclear Power Plants

Author: Nina Welding

Stronger, faster, more reliable — those are the three key words used in a grant proposal to the Department of Energy (DOE) for the development of advanced reinforced concrete technologies to accelerate construction schedules, reduce costs and build safer nuclear power plants. The project, presented by Yahya Kurama, professor and associate chair of the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering & Earth Sciences, and Ashley Thrall, the Myron and Rosemary Noble Assistant Professor of Structural Engineering, is now being funded by the DOE as part of the Advanced Methods for Manufacturing program. Kurama and Thrall will be collaborating with Scott Sanborn, senior member of the technical staff of the Structural & Thermal Analysis Department at Sandia National Laboratories and Matthew Van Liew, structural engineer at AECOM.

Approximately twenty percent of the electricity production in the United States comes from nuclear power plants, produced by 100 operating units. A significant design challenge for creating new reinforced concrete nuclear power plant structures is reducing their construction costs and time while improving safety. The funded Notre Dame project, which is affiliated with the Center for Sustainable Energy at Notre Dame (ND Energy), is entitled “Prefabricated High-Strength Rebar Systems with High-Performance Concrete for Accelerated Construction of Nuclear Concrete Structures” and will address this challenge.

During the course of the estimated $800,000 three-year project, researchers will be exploring high-strength concrete together with prefabricated high-strength steel rebar to improve construction speed and quality while delivering a more reliable product that offers better field inspection opportunities through reduced rebar complexities. The team will build upon existing high-strength materials to develop new know-how on the anchorages for the rebar, shear-wall-to-foundation joints and thermal and seismic loading capabilities of multi-story walls. According to Peter C. Burns, director of ND Energy and the Henry J. Massman Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering & Earth Sciences, “This is an exciting new area of research for the University and one that we expect will grow over the coming years. We are delighted to support these efforts as the team works toward improving the structural design and safety of energy production in an efficient and economical way.”

Kurama, Thrall, Sanborn and Van Liew will work with graduate and undergraduate students, as well as other research associates, at Notre Dame on the project tasks, which will include optimization, design, analysis, construction and large-scale testing. The envisioned advances and outcomes from the project will culminate in a generalized design procedure document featuring a full-scale example with design recommendations and analytical tools, manufacturing and construction procedures and industry workshops on new methods that can be used by practicing structural engineers to design the next-generation safety-related reinforced concrete structures for nuclear power plants in the United States.