Please tell us about yourself

Ishita Trivedi enjoys research and the process of learning.

“Sometimes I don’t know what the end result of the day will be,” Trivedi, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Nuclear Engineering (NE) at North Carolina State University, said. “Sometimes it’s frustrating. But I like that.”

That means hours in front of a computer in a graduate student office in Burlington Engineering Laboratories doing modeling work on lead-cooled fast reactors. These next-generation reactors use fast neutrons to sustain the fission chain reaction that drives power generation. Unlike commercial nuclear plants now in place in the United States, these reactors use liquid metals for cooling, rather than water.

“It’s more efficient,” said Trivedi, whose research is conducted with Dr. Kostadin Ivanov, head of the department. “Since there is no need for a neutron moderator, the size of the reactor can be greatly reduced.”

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What did you study?

I did my Bachelor’s degree in Nuclear Engineering from Pennsylvania State University- University Park and M.S./Phd from North Carolina State University (Nuclear Engineering)

How does this research benefit the industry?

Home to the first university-based nuclear reactor and the first university nuclear engineering educational curriculum, the department has a long and storied history. NE has played a key role in helping maintain and expand the lifespan of the light water reactors (LWRs) currently in use across the United States. At the same time, the department is helping to drive research on the next generation of reactors like the one Trivedi is studying and moving into other areas such as nuclear nonproliferation.

“The department is growing, so we’re trying to position ourselves in different areas,” Ivanov said.

One way to measure NE’s national importance is in the department’s success in securing research funding from the Department of Energy’s Nuclear Engineering University Program (NEUP), the largest source for federal research dollars for university nuclear engineering programs.

“NC State received more NEUP funding in 2016 than any other school in the country and is in the top three nationally in the nearly decade-long history of the program,” said Dr. John Gilligan, Distinguished University Professor in the department and the College’s executive associate dean.

If you count two Department of Energy (DOE) consortia based in the department, the College ranks first when it comes to federal funding for a university nuclear engineering program in the United States.

What is the future potential for Nuclear energy?

Something remarkable happened last year near Spring City, Tenn. A new nuclear power plant was brought online in the United States for the first time in 20 years with the completion of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Watts Bar Unit 2.

Four more new plants are being built by utilities in South Carolina and Georgia. Roughly 60 new facilities are under construction worldwide.

At the same time, some existing commercial nuclear plants in the United States have been taken offline. Factors include a reduction in power demand, state policy decisions and the availability of cheap natural gas. However, the 99 reactors still in use produce 20 percent of the U.S. electrical power used.

“Things are moving ahead in nuclear energy and security in this country,” Gilligan said. “Certainly, around the world.”

According to Gilligan, the federal government is very supportive of research into nuclear engineering.

The department is playing an important role in both extending the operating life and improving the safety of the current fleet of LWRs, and in developing a new generation of reactors.

The Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light-Water Reactors, funded by the DOE and led by the department, is using advanced modeling and simulation to help extend the lifespan of current LWRs from 40 to 60 years and maybe even longer.

At the same time, the department is collaborating with Westinghouse and researchers at the Oak Ridge, Argonne and Idaho National Laboratories on fast lead-cooled reactors and reactors that are cooled by molten salt.

For Trivedi, the work being done in the department is work that matters, especially with predictions of a dark future for humankind if power generation from carbon-based sources isn’t curtailed in favor of nuclear and renewable sources like wind and solar.

“I love the fact that what I’m doing has an effect,” she said.