US researchers develop nuclear reactor digital twin

10 January 2024

US Researchers at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) and Idaho State University (ISU) nuclear engineering students have jointly developed the world’s first nuclear reactor digital twin, INL announced. It is a virtual replica of ISU’s AGN-201 reactor.

By modelling nuclear reactors, digital twins allow researchers to understand how certain changes affect the entire system, without making an irreversible change to the physical reactor itself. Digital twins could save nuclear energy researchers time and money, especially as new, innovative reactors come online, INL noted.

The AGN-201 digital twin receives real-time data from the reactor and then uses machine learning to anticipate its performance. Using the digital twin, researchers can interact with the real reactor in mixed reality by monitoring data. According to INL, nuclear reactor digital twins may eventually allow operators to control the reactor remotely. “The benefits of a nuclear reactor digital twin are enormous,” said Christopher Ritter, INL’s Digital Engineering manager. “Digital twins provide a comprehensive understanding of nuclear fuel cycle facility operations, strengthening nuclear security and non-proliferation efforts.”

Bringing the first digital twin of a nuclear reactor online required more than a dozen tests and significant tenacity and patience. The project began when INL digital engineer Ryan Stewart, an ISU alum, recommended using the AGN-201 reactor for some of the team’s planned demonstrations. The reactor is an ideal test bed for this project because it is simple compared with commercial power reactors.

The AGN-201 reactor, which began operating in 1965, produces fewer than five watts of heat and requires no active cooling. The physical reactor has a simple and safe design intended to perform research activities and teach students the practical aspects of nuclear reactor operation.

ISU students installed data acquisition equipment in the reactor and developed operation scenarios to test the reactor twin – gaining a unique opportunity to take part in cutting edge research. INL provided much of the digital engineering support, including data acquisition, cloud streaming, machine learning and mixed reality.

Image: The team demonstrate the world's first nuclear reactor digital twin (courtesy of INL)

Privacy Policy
We have updated our privacy policy. In the latest update it explains what cookies are and how we use them on our site. To learn more about cookies and their benefits, please view our privacy policy. Please be aware that parts of this site will not function correctly if you disable cookies. By continuing to use this site, you consent to our use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy unless you have disabled them.