Analysis of the Nuclear Heat Source for the Thermoacoustic Power Sensor Prototype at the Pennn State Breazeale Reactor (PSBR)

Open Access
Bascom, Andrew John
Graduate Program:
Nuclear Engineering
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
Committee Members:
  • Kenan Unlu, Thesis Advisor
  • Nuclear
  • Thermoacoustic
The ThermoAcoustic Power Sensor (TAPS) is a new device designed to measure the neutron flux and coolant temperature inside the core of a nuclear reactor, and transmit that data wirelessly to sensors located on the outer surface of a reactor pressure vessel. The device uses a thermoacoustic engine driven by a nuclear fuel heat source to excite thermoacoustic pressure waves inside the resonator region of the device. These pressure waves vibrate the thermoacoustic resonator creating sound in the surrounding fluid that can be measured as a vibration transmitted through the reactor coolant and structures. Computer simulation of the device’s power source was performed to determine the suitability of the Penn State Breazeale Reactor (PSBR) for initial testing of the device. Additional simulations were performed to analyze the prototype design, and to ensure compliance with PSBR safety requirements. Operating license restrictions on the amount of radioactive iodine within fueled experiments limited the duration and frequency of irradiations of the TAPS. Testing of the TAPS successfully demonstrated the ability to transmit reactor power and temperature data wirelessly using sound waves that could be measured outside of the reactor core. Analysis of the data recorded during the initial measurements continues to provide further insights into the device’s potential for applications in commercial power reactors. Additional modeling and testing should be able to further characterize the behavior of the device’s response to prolonged and repeated irradiations, allowing for adaptation into a commercially viable product. The TAPS device is self-powered, and will remain functional during a site blackout, a complete loss of all electrical power, such as the incident that occurred at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in March 2011. Future generations of the TAPS device will allow the plant operations staff to monitor reactor conditions throughout the emergency.