Infrastructure Energy & MaterialsNovember 14, 2023

Developing a future roadmap for SMRs with virtual twins!

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Avatar Victoria Martinez

As countries begin to ramp up its decarbonized electricity initiatives, the relevance of nuclear power is now beyond doubt. The emergence of SMRs (Small Modular Reactors) brings a fresh perspective on sources of energy. Virtual twins are a must if we are to rise to the challenge and beat the fast-ticking climate emergency clock! Let’s deep dive into the matter!

‘S,’ ‘M,’ and ‘R’: three letters with a twofold promise. Behind the ‘Small Modular Reactor’ acronym lies a possible solution for two cornerstone issues. Number one: how to decarbonize electricity output. At a time when the need for positive climate actionby reducing greenhouse gas emissionsbecomes ever more pressing, SMRs are now regarded as one of tomorrow’s solutions. A rationale based on the reactor’s multiple features.

Discovering the myriad benefits of SMRs

As its name suggests, an SMR is a small-sized nuclear reactor with a modular design structured into individual modules. SMRs differ from standard reactors since they are less clunky and more cost-effective to build. This makes them easier to manufacture prior to assembly on-site. Construction is therefore quicker and cheaper. Ranging between 20 and 300 MWe, SMR output versus traditional reactors (European pressurized reactor – EPR) powered on 1,650 MWe inevitably means faster commissioning, not to mention easier dismantling when this infrastructure reaches end-of-life. What’s more, SMRs stand out for their versatility. This particular reactor’s design enables use to generate electricity, process heat to industry scale and desalinate water. Such versatility paves the way for flexibility, diversifying the pool of energy sources, industrializing advanced safety mechanisms to reduce the risk of core meltdown while also monitoring them. SMRs are also far less likely to produce radioactive emissions than conventional reactors, because of their technical specifications.

The race is on to unlock energy innovation, which will herald one final sprint for the nuclear industry! While most SMRs currently work on the nuclear fission process, the focus is now shifting toward nuclear fusion. Unlike fission, with its complex and costly radioactive waste, fusion generates mostly helium – a relatively harmless gas. On top of that, nuclear fusion uses the hydrogen isotopes – deuterium and tritium – both ubiquitously found in water and lithium. These abundant resources serve to guarantee supply for the long term. Though the situation augurs well for industry across the board, it must become a reality that addresses sustainability and energy sovereignty. That’s where the 3DEXPERIENCE built-in virtual twin comes into play!

Accelerating innovation through virtual twins

Pressured by geopolitics and the climate crisis, nuclear finds itself in a paradoxical position. Just how does this industry stay ahead of the pack to innovate without compromising on safety? Leveraging SMRs’ virtual twins, precious time can be saved at every single stage in this reactor’s lifecycle.  Encompassing the design, construction, operations and maintenance stages, virtual twins not only propel innovation, but also boost operational efficiency in the day-to-day running of SMRs. Truth be told, SMR design is crucial yet complicated!

Prior to construction, virtual twins can be utilized to simulate a range of design scenarios. Say goodbye to those expensive design mistakes when construction is already underway! In fact, virtual twins help pinpoint and resolve issues upstream to deliver reduced costs and lead times. Deployment of advanced digital solutions to simulate SMR behavior in many conditions makes it possible to further explore design performance, safety and durability, and even focus on continuous improvement. Post-design, the benefits of virtual twins continue in construction as they facilitate more accurate scheduling through their simulation of each stage. This optimizes the use of resources, personnel and materials. We can deploy virtual twins to train construction workers and technicians on procedures and equipment, improving efficiency and safety at the worksite.

Optimizing operations and maintenance

Once in operation, SMRs must be continuously monitored and maintained. Operating in real-time, virtual twins assess reactor performance with the goal of actively detecting anomalies and potential defects. Their predictive maintenance capabilities keep service interruption to a minimum, which, in turn, maximizes uptime for SMRs. And that’s just for starters! Virtual twins are invaluable to the training process for SMR maintenance teams. As a result, they can continuously improve their procedures and methods by simulating emergency scenarios to help staff respond effectively to incidents as well as bolster safety protocol. Through digital simulation, virtual twins and collaboration, the functional capabilities of the 3DEXPERIENCE platform position Dassault Systèmes front and center of the nuclear transformation. Some players are only too aware of this, such as the UK Atomic Energy Authority which, in May, announced the development of a fusion energy plant with Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE platform.

NAAREA redefines time scales through the virtual twin.

The French startup NAAREA is developing an innovative micro reactor, the XAMR, to meet the growing demand for energy while reducing carbon emissions. Thanks to an innovative approach and the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, NAAREA has succeeded in creating a virtual twin of its reactor to manage its entire lifecycle, from design to commissioning.

Learn more by watching our video:

Learn more at 3ds.com by exploring the challenges of nuclear energy in our Industries: Infrastructure, Energy & Materials section.

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