Cost-effective, fault-tolerant system aims to improve U.S. nuclear safety and security.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) has contracted Packet Digital to develop a cost-effective, fault-tolerant nuclear fuel monitoring system to ensure the safe, secure use and storage of nuclear material across industries.
“The growing interest, adoption and use of nuclear technology over the last several decades has been prolific across industries from energy and defense to transportation, cargo inspection, medical, astronautical, waste storage and more,” Packet Digital CEO Terri Gunn Zimmerman said. “Packet Digital’s monitoring system will help ensure the safety of people who work with nuclear material on a daily basis, as well a prevent extensive damage from catastrophic events or terrorist acts.”
The DoE offered Packet Digital a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract to demonstrate the proof of concept of a system to monitor critical environmental conditions and provide feedback regarding the health and status of a nuclear facility to a monitoring station through a redundant, fault-tolerant network of sensors. Packet Digital will design the support circuitry and processing to integrate neutron detection into the system and improve usability, performance and battery life.
The prototype design is scheduled for completion in February 2017.
Packet Digital will take several precautions to ensure the robustness and reliability of its nuclear monitoring system.
“While the neutron detector is relatively mature technology, modifications to the circuitry will require further testing and evaluation of its sufficient radiation hardness to endure long-term radiation exposure, which is essential for the intended application of nuclear waste monitoring,” said Dr. Agus Widjaja, Packet Digital’s primary investigator on the project.
Individual sensor modules will be configured in a mesh network topology to increase reliability. Sensor nodes will also include redundant power sources including wired power and automatic failover to battery power.
Packet Digital will use its expertise in Application-Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC) design and hardware-based, dynamic power optimization to ensure precise measurement from low-power sensor nodes over long periods of time, even on backup battery power.
Future work and benefits
Packet Digital will eventually integrate its design into a more comprehensive sensing architecture to be made available to nuclear facilities and other industries. The representative system will include not only neutron detection, but other sensing capabilities such as hydrogen, thermal and imaging.
Packet Digital will begin evaluating additional sensors, including cameras suitable for nuclear fuel monitoring such as optical, electro-optical infrared (EOIR), thermal, and multispectral. Various imaging methods will provide details on the structural integrity of nuclear storage containers as well as monitoring changes in the environment.