- Put the safety doors on manual overdrive.
- [Scientist] No, I cannot do that.
- [Scientist] Get out!
- In my group, we study and develop materials
to make nuclear power safer.
If you want to do a neat demo,
we can actually make some stainless steel from scratch
and fire up the arc melter? - Uh, yes,
I definitely wanna do that. - Okay.
- We have a few projects in this lab.
One of them is to produce, what I call,
the fuel cladding of the future.
The element that we use to make fuel cladding,
which protects the fuel from the water
and keeps it all together.
At Fukushima, the simultaneous earthquake and tsunami
knocked out the reactor and its backup safety systems,
so the reactor wasn't able to keep the core cool.
The fuel got so hot that
it boiled the surrounding water into steam,
which reacted with the zirconium in the fuel rods.
Unfortunately, when zirconium reacts with steam,
it also makes hydrogen gas,
and it's the hydrogen gas that exploded.
We're developing new combinations
of zirconium and stainless steel
that don't react with steam to make hydrogen.
This right here is a zirconium steam oxidation facility.
We take different alloys of zirconium,
cut into little pieces,
then put them through, hanging on a bunch of strings
in this chamber right here,
and then send in steam at 400 degrees Celsius
to simulate what would happen
in a nuclear reactor in an accident condition.
There's a second project,
in which we can measure material property changes
as they happen during radiation,
using a technique that's kind of a mouthful,
we call it dual heterodyne transient grating spectroscopy.
These are critical properties
for materials to survive a nuclear reactors.
These experiments have typically taken
months to years for people to do,
and now, for the first time,
we can explore material properties,
like stiffness and how well heat flows through materials,
using this bench top experiment,
and take an experiment that used to take years
and do it in hours.
That's gonna help us design new materials
to make safer reactors.
Our lab's coming up with the first way
that we know about where we can
actually measure the stored energy,
tiny, tiny amounts of energy,
we're talking microjoules, that usually you can't even see.
We can take tiny pieces of these materials,
smaller than a grain of sand,
and using a nano calorimeter,
or an energy measurement device on a chip,
we can tell how much energy radiation has left behind and,
therefore, measure the amount of damage to the material.
So the big contraption you see before you
is our home built and home building
vacuum atomic force microscope.
We don't want anything to stick
to anything in a reactor because then you might get this,
the technical term for what you get is crud.
Believe it or not.
Stands for "chalk river unidentified deposits".
All it is is it's corrosion products
that stick to the fuel rods and get super radioactive.
It's one of the big problems in reactors today,
and we think we have a way to solve it.
The atomic force microscope actually
brings a little piece of this crud
in contact with the material and
measures how hard it is to pull it off,
and that's the stickiness that we're measuring.
But we have to test it out in the lab
in this sort of contraption
to know if we're right.