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Nuclear-Safety-Related SQA
Procedure Automation with
Custom Applications

Nuclear-safety-related procedures are rigorous for good reason. Small design mistakes can quickly turn
into unwanted failures. Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory worked with COMSOL to define a
simulation app that automates the software quality assurance (SQA) verification process and provides
results in less than 24 hours.

by NATALIA SWITALA                                                FIGURE 1. HFIR reactor core undergoing a defueling operation.

Software updates can feel like an old friend surprising           ð REPORTING REQUIREMENTS, SAFETY
         you with insuf cient notice that they will be coming     FIRST!
         to visit. You are equally excited and frantic. You hope
everything will go smoothly, that the update is backward          The SQA process is in place to ensure that the software used
compatible with the version you are currently running, and        to perform an analysis is producing the intended results.
that it passes all of the software quality assurance (SQA)        “Verifying that a local software installation performs as
requirements. This scenario is even more exaggerated when         the developer intends is a potentially time-consuming but
the software is used in a highly regulated environment,           necessary step for nuclear-safety-related codes,” explains Jim,
such as a nuclear research reactor operated for the U.S.          a senior research staff member of ORNL. ORNL separates their
Department of Energy (DOE).


When dealing with nuclear energy, there are many safety
precautions in place to prevent failures, including SQA
requirements that apply to all nuclear-safety-related
components associated with the reactor facility.

    One task that James D. (Jim) Freels and a team at Oak
Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) are focused on is research
and development for the conversion of the High Flux Isotope
Reactor (HFIR) fuel from highly-enriched uranium (HEU) to
low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel (Figure 1). In response to
the Global Threat Reduction Initiative, many of the world’s
nuclear research reactors have already been converted. One
primary design goal for the LEU conversion of the HFIR is that
it remain the highest ux-reactor-based source of neutrons
for condensed-matter research in the U.S. and, therefore,
remain competitive in the world neutron source market.
The unique fuel and core design, as well as the high power
density of the HFIR, present a complex and challenging
task for fuel conversion. These ORNL researchers use
COMSOL Multiphysics® software to explore the impact
that the fuel change will have on the HFIR’s performance
and on the neutron scattering initiatives.

    The DOE requires rigorous compliance with SQA standards.
Hence, procedures have been developed and are performed
by ORNL to adhere to nuclear-safety-related practices. In order
to comply, Jim and the ORNL team verify that any software
they use behaves as expected by the code developers from the
initial installation to the latest update.

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