Nuclear Packaging Program

Person standing in front of large-scale fire

Professor Greiner in front of a large-scale fire test with automated data acquisition that the Nuclear Packaging Program conducted in 2007 with Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Dear Academic and Nuclear Packaging Communities,

Nuclear and other radioactive materials are used for life-saving medical diagnostics and treatments, electricity generation without greenhouse gas emission, national defense, advanced measurements, food sterilization, and other purposes.  For society to benefit from these important uses, packaging that protects the public and the environment during the storage, transport, and disposal of these hazardous materials must be developed and safely operated.  Federal regulations require that these package work properly under normal as well as severe fire, crash, and other accident conditions.  Professional opportunities in industry, national laboratories, and government agencies are available for engineers with nuclear packaging safety interest and expertise.

The University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) Mechanical Engineering Department’s Nuclear Packaging Program has performed packaging research since 1993.  In 2016, it began offering a unique Graduate Certificate in Nuclear Packaging, to help students and professionals advance their careers, and industries train employees. This website describes opportunities for students, and the program’s Research and Education activities.  

Please contact us if you would like additional information, or to become involved in Nuclear Packaging Program activities.

Nuclear Packaging
Miles Greiner
Miles Greiner
Foundation Professor
(775) 784-4873
WPEB 205
5514
Nuclear Packaging
Mustafa Hadj-Nacer
Mustafa Hadj-Nacer
Research Assistant Professor
(775) 682-7480
PE 219
5514

Opportunities for Student Involvement

Funded and for-credit opportunities are available for qualified graduate and undergraduate students who would like to gain experience and research expertise related to nuclear packaging safety and thermal/fluid science. These opportunities involve working with faculty members and other students. Several students from this program are now employed in related fields. Additionally, the UNR Graduate Fellowship in Nuclear Power funds US citizens and permanent residents, who are interested in working for nuclear industry, national labs, or government agencies, to earn MS and Ph.D. degrees.

  • Graduate student funding

    Graduate Assistantships for students seeking Ph.D. or MS degrees

    Self-Powered Platform to Measure and Report Used Nuclear Fuel Canister Internal Conditions

    In September 2020, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced, based on a competitive grant application process, it is providing the University of Nevada, Reno College of Engineering with nearly $500,000 over three years to develop a proof-of-concept system to measure conditions inside thick-walled used nuclear fuel canisters, and safely transmit the data to a receiver outside.  This work will help assure the safety of used nuclear fuel storage and transportation.  It will require the development of low-power magnetic resonance signals that can reliably transmit data across thick metal walls.  It will also develop and place thermoelectric devices that harvest heat generated by the used fuel to produce electric power.  That energy will power the measurement and signal transmission devices.  Multiple graduate students will work closely with engineering faculty members to perform theoretical, computational, and experimental research and development.  This work will be published in archival journals and peer-reviewed conferences proceedings.  The research group will interact with a nuclear technology and services company.  The work will not involve contact with radioactive materials. 

    A bachelor’s degree in mechanical or electrical engineering, or a closely related field, and a strong interest in performing research, are required.  US citizenship or permanent residency is also required.  The assistantship will provide University of Nevada, Reno graduate tuition, health benefits, supervision by faculty members, and a stipend of $1600/month for Master students, or $1900/month for Ph.D. students.  Hourly employment for undergraduate students is available, especially for students who are interested in starting graduate studies within a year. For more information, please contact Professors Miles GreinerMustafa Hadj NacerYan Wang, and/or JiHwan Yoon.

    Ventilation Requirements for Nuclear Material Staging Facility

    This work is developing computational fluid dynamics-based models to predict temperatures of heat generating nuclear materials packages within staging facilities. 

    A bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering or a closely related field, and a strong interest in performing research, are required.  US citizenship or permanent residency is also required.  The assistantship will provide University of Nevada, Reno graduate tuition, health benefits, supervision by faculty members, and a stipend of $1600/month for Master students, or $1900/month for Ph.D. students.  Hourly employment for undergraduate students is available, especially for students who are interested in starting graduate studies within a year. For more information, please contact Professors Miles Greiner, and/or Mustafa Hadj Nacer.

    UNR Graduate Fellowship in Nuclear Power

    The UNR Graduate Fellowship in Nuclear Power funds US citizens and permanent residents, who are interested in working for nuclear industry, national labs, or government agencies, to earn MS and Ph.D. degrees.

  • Undergraduate Openings

    Please contact Foundation Professor Miles Greiner, and/or Research Assistant Professor Mustafa Hadj Nacer for information on hourly employment or ME 499 Special Projects.

Research and Government Service

Since 1993, the US Department of Energy (DOE), the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the State of Nevada, and industry have funded fundamental and applied research to better understand the performance and improve the safety of nuclear packaging.  This research involves thermal/fluid science experiments that replicate the conditions of packaging under normal operating conditions, as well as severe hypothetical and historic fire accidents.  Program students, faculty and staff have used this data to create and validate computational fluid dynamics (CFD) models.  They then use those models to predict package performance under a wide variety of normal and potential accident conditions.  Government agencies have funded this work to better understand the level of safety that used-nuclear-fuel packages, which are licensed by the federal government, provide during severe accidents.

Current Research Activities

  • Used Nuclear Fuel Packaging Research

    Nuclear fuel assemblies consist primarily of square arrays of zircaloy cladding tubes that contain uranium dioxide fuel pellets.  The pellets become highly radioactive and produce fission product gases while the assembly is used in a power reactor.  After used nuclear fuel (UNF) assemblies are removed from a reactor, they are stored underwater while their radioactivity and heat generation rates decrease.  The water also shields the surrounding from radiation and controls the fuel temperature.  After sufficient time, assemblies are moved into gas-filled stainless-steel canisters.   The canisters are then placed into thick-walled packages for onsite dry storage, or offsite transport.  During normal storage and transport, the fuel must remain in its original configuration to allow for future processing or repackaging.  The Code of Federal Regulations (10CFR71) also require that transport packages ensure containment, shielding, and criticality safety after a series of hypothetical accident events.  That series consists of a 9-m drop onto an unyielding surface, a 1-m drop onto a puncture bar, 30-minute engulfment in an 800oC fire, and then water emersion.  A Safety Analysis Report of Packaging (SARP) is prepared for each system to demonstrate by analysis and/or testing that the package will meet all relevant requirements.  Before the system may be used, the SARP must be assess and approved by a regulatory authority.

    Nuclear Packaging Program faculty and students are currently developing computational fluid dynamics (CFD) models to predict UNF temperatures in dry storage facilities, and during vacuum drying processes.  They are conducting bench-scale experiments to quantitatively validate these models.  They are also using data acquired by other researchers in actual used nuclear fuel packages to validate their models.  Additionally, they are performing Direct Simulation Monte Carlo (DSMC) calculations to model heat transfer in moist rarefied gases, to better understand and model heat and mass transport during vacuum drying.  We will add links to describe these research investigations.

  • Simulations of Nuclear Packaging Staging Facilities

    Nuclear Packaging Program faculty and students are currently developing detailed computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulation of facilities used to stage large numbers of nuclear materials packages.  The nuclear materials within these packages generate heat, but the temperature of certain package components must not exceed specified limits.  The computational models include the facility ventilation system, and package heat generation, and air flow within the facility.  These models will be used to predict the margin of safety between the package component temperatures and their allowed limits, for a range of ventilation temperatures and flow rates.  This work is being funded by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).  Opportunities are available for US citizens or permanent resident students to be involvement to be involved in this work. 

  • Self-powered platforms to measure conditions within used nuclear fuel canisters and wirelessly transmit the data across the thick metal containment boundary

    In September 2020, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced that it is providing three-years of funding to develop a proof-of-concept platform to measure conditions inside thick stainless-steel walled used nuclear fuel canisters, and safely transmit the data to a receiver outside.  This work will help assure the safety of used nuclear fuel storage and transportation.  The research will develop low-power magnetic resonance signals that can reliably transmit data across the canister lid.  It will also develop and place thermoelectric devices that harvest heat generated by the used fuel to produce electric power.  That energy will power the measurement and signal transmission devices.  Multiple graduate students will work closely with engineering faculty members to perform theoretical, computational, and experimental research and development.  The research group will interact with a nuclear technology and services company.  Opportunities for graduate students are available.

Earlier Research and Government Service Activities

  • Development and experimental validation of computational models to predict heat transfer to massive objects engulfed in large-scale pool fires
    Real massive fire next to a simulation of the same fire
    Video and Container Analysis Fire Environment (CAFE) computational fluid dynamics simulations of a large pool fire test the program performed at Sandia National Laboratories in 2007.

    From 2000 to 2008, Dr. Greiner and his students performed large-scale experiments and computational studies of heat transfer to massive objects engulfed in pool fires. This work focused on the interaction between fires, the surrounding wind conditions, and engulfed objects. It has led to an understanding of the thermal radiation properties of fires as well as the accuracy of inverse-conduction techniques used to measure heat flux in fires. Professor Greiner has used this work as a basis to estimate the response of truck- and railcar-sized used nuclear fuel transport packages under severe accident conditions. The DOE and Innovative Technologies Solutions Corporation have funded this work. Based on publications in this area, he received an award for co-authoring the Outstanding Operations, Applications, and Components Technical Paper at the 2003 ASME Pressure Vessel and Piping Conference, and the G.E.O. Widera Literature Award for co-authoring the Outstanding Technical Paper in the 2004 ASME Journal of Pressure Vessel Technology.

  • US Nuclear Regulatory Commission
    Animation of fire movement
    A Container Analysis Fire Environment (CAFE) computational fluid dynamics simulation recreating the conditions of the 1982 Caldicott Highway Tunnel fire. In this simulation, a GA-4 used nuclear fuel truck package is placed in proximity to the fuel source, to predict how the package temperatures would respond to the fire.

    From 2011 to 2013, Professor Greiner and his students performed computational fluid dynamics/radiation heat transfer simulations, using the Container Analysis Fire Environment (CAFE). to predict the thermal response of a GA-4 truck cask, assuming it was in proximity to two historic accidental fires.  The GA-4 is licensed by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission to transport four pressurized water reactor (PWR) used fuel assemblies, based on relevant federal regulations.  The selected fire accidents took place in the Caldicott Highway Tunnel (near Oakland, California) in 1982, and Baltimore’s Howard Street Railroad Tunnel in 2001.  The goal of that work was to evaluate the adequacy of federal regulations to assure that a licensed package would protect the public and the environment during severe accidents.

  • State of Nevada
    Fire simulation
    Click on this image to view simulation.

    From 2000 to 2006, the State of Nevada funded Professor Greiner and his students to predict the response of used nuclear fuel transport packages to a range of extra-regulatory fire accident conditions, using the Container Analysis Fire Environment (CAFE) computer code.

Educational programs

In 2016, the Mechanical Engineering Department began offering a unique Graduate Certificate in Nuclear Packaging with support from the DOE Packaging Certification Program.  The purpose of the graduate certificate is to provide a curriculum in packaging for nuclear and other radioactive materials that complements research-based graduate programs in mechanical, nuclear, materials and other related engineering fields, but is more applied-knowledge-based.  The three required courses, and most of the electives, are taught by experienced technical staff at Argonne, Lawrence Livermore, Oak Ridge, Sandia, and Savannah River National Laboratories over one and two-week long periods.  These classes have been taken by technical staff from nuclear industries, national labs, government agencies, as well as university students, from within and outside the United States.  In 2020, the program initiated a new Graduate Certificate in Transportation Security and Safeguards.

The Mechanical Engineering Department, and the Materials Science and Engineering Department offer several undergraduate and graduate classes that help provide a foundation for nuclear packaging. 

Related Thermal/Fluid Science Research

Program faculty, students and staff have performed a wide range of related thermal/fluid science research, focusing on heat transfer augmentation, space system thermal management, and other important applications.  This work has been funded by the National Science Foundation, DOE, NASA and other agencies and industry.  We will add links to this page to describe these research programs.

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