NET Students Design Simulated Reactor Cooling System in Study of Thermodynamics

by Alana J. Mauger

During the fall semester, Montgomery County Community College Nuclear Engineering Technology (NET) students Jennifer Allsop and Andrew Fluck took on the challenge of designing and constructing a simulated nuclear reactor cooling system as they studied thermodynamics.

“This NET course relies heavily on Design of Experiment (DOE). Each student is required to design an experiment that demonstrates previously studied theories and concepts,” said NET adjunct lecturer Saundra Weikel. “Since there are many different approaches to the solution of these problems, students are encouraged to find different paths.”

Allsop and Fluck started their project with sketches on paper, which were transferred into Solid Works – a CAD-like software program that students learn to use earlier in the NET curriculum.

“Our simulated reactor is a modern design like the ones being built now, after lessons learned from Japan,” said Fluck, who will graduate in May. “The design uses natural cooling, gravity, evaporation and natural draft, none of which require power.”

The designs were then constructed in a three-dimensional printer. Each of the five cooling towers took approximately 36 hours to print.

Design and development took approximately eight weeks, followed by full-scale testing and troubleshooting for the remainder of the semester.

“We need to understand how the system works from the ground up,” explained Allsop, who graduated in December. “In the field, if something goes wrong, we need to pinpoint what’s happening and address the problem.”

The simulated reactor will be used in future NET lab experiments and exercises, accompanied by a “how to” manual written by Allsop and Fluck.

“As part of the DOE process, students must write a detailed paper describing their design and construction of the system, and they must collect data using the system, ensuring that any data collected supports the theories studied,” said Weikel, who spent much of her career working as a nuclear engineer at the Limerick Generating Station.

The College’s NET program follows the Nuclear Energy Institute’s uniform curriculum to ensure that students meet core competencies and are prepared to work in the nuclear industry after they graduate.

Montgomery County Community College introduced its NET program in 2009 in response to an anticipated shortage of nuclear technicians in the region over the next decade. That shortage, coupled with the U.S. Department of Energy’s estimate of a 20 percent increase in the use of electricity by 2030, makes the Nuclear Engineering industry an attractive option for today’s students.

“Nuclear engineering is something I was always interested in, but I didn’t know how to get there,” explained Fluck, who was enrolled as a part-time Engineering student at the time the College introduced the NET program.

Allsop was laid off from her job, which prompted her to return to school and enroll in the NET program.

“It sounds like a challenging position to have and something that I think I will really enjoy,” she said about her future work in the nuclear industry.

Jennifer Allsop and Andrew Fluck run tests on their simulated nuclear reactor cooling system during the fall semester. Photo by Matt Carlin

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