Researchers at Idaho National Laboratory (INL) recently performed their first digital twin test of a simulated microreactor, according to the US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Nuclear Energy. The demonstration builds on advancements in remote monitoring, autonomous control, and predictive capabilities that can help lower operating costs of microreactor technologies and enhance their safety.
Researchers built a virtual model of the Microreactor Agile Non-nuclear Experimental Testbed (MAGNET) using sensor data and open-source technologies to create a consistent flow of information and real-time data sharing. This digital twin allowed researchers to test, evaluate, and predict microreactor behaviours under different operating conditions.
Through integrated machine learning, the digital twin predicted future heat pipe temperatures and detected trends toward unfavourable threshold temperatures. The virtual model then autonomously controlled the heat pipe by adjusting its temperature to avoid potential complications. Researchers used a separate computer system to capture a 3D model of the heat pipe, along with sensor temperatures.
“The success of this digital twin could revolutionise the advanced nuclear industry,” said Jeren Browning, a digital engineering researcher at INL supporting the MAGNET project. “Autonomous control is a significant cost-savings and safety feature that will enable new microreactors to come online more readily and quickly meet regulatory standards.”
Digital twins allow researchers to locate, assess, and address potential areas of risk using modelling and simulation. The data gathered can then be used to reduce technical uncertainty and optimise reactor designs before they are built in the real world. The MAGNET demonstration was funded by an INL Laboratory Directed Research and Development project and lays the framework for future virtual models and the benefits of virtual simulation for evaluating reactor designs.
MAGNET was developed through DOE’s Microreactor Programme, which supports the research, development, and future demonstration of microreactor concepts. MAGNET establishes a space for national labs, university, and industry partners to test microreactor technologies.
As a non-nuclear test bed, MAGNET uses electrical heating elements and heat pipes to simulate the behaviour and main components of microreactor concepts. This integrated testing capability leverages digital twin techniques to gain more insight, real-time data, and enhanced predictions in performance tests, including autonomous control for nuclear reactor systems.