F3: Fission, Fusion materials Facility
MaRIE's Fission Fusion materials Facility (F3) combines a unique neutron irradiation environment much like that found inside a nuclear reactor with sophisticated in situ diagnostics to "watch damage happen" in materials. This approach to studying materials behavior in a radiation environment will revolutionize our understanding of microstructural physics and significantly accelerate the development of next-generation reactor fuels and structural components.
Nuclear energy is a key element of secure, clean, domestic energy production, and the United States is committed to expanding its reliance on nuclear energy. In this context, the fission community is determining the investment priorities that will extend the lifetime of the current reactor fleet, address new reactors to enable new fuel cycles, develop timely testing, licensing, and certification of new materials, and answer nonproliferation concerns. At the same time, the fusion community recognizes that with imminent ignition at the National Ignition Facility in the United States and construction of ITER, an international magnetic fusion experimental facility, in France, there is a need to turn its attention to the discovery of materials that can withstand the extreme thermal and irradiation conditions produced by a working fusion plasma.
Materials are the immediate priority of both the fission and fusion communities. Extending the lifetime of the current fleet of light water reactors depends on understanding how the materials fail as they age. There are many ideas for a new generation of power reactors that may operate at higher operating temperatures. There is also attraction to using new fuel types that can burn fuel more efficiently, thus extending the time between refuelings of the reactor and extracting more of the energy potential of the fuel.
Unfortunately, the time from lab-scale research to certification of a new material for use in a reactor is typically measured in decades. Worse is that the current paradigms for certification require empirical observations in comparable radiation environments. Whereas new fuel cladding and fuels for existing reactors can, slowly, be certified in the absence of a comparable irradiation environment, there is no proven way to certify new reactor designs without building them and conducting tests, a "catch-22" situation.