4 May 2012
Professor Kamran Nikbin, Professor of Structural Integrity (Mechanical Engineering) discusses the role Imperial’s Structural Integrity Centre, sponsored by EDF Energy has in advancing safety issues in the nuclear industry. Structural integrity covers a wide range of failure assessment of structures and the related material response to stresses and failure mechanisms.
“Since the Fukushima incident, which was triggered by an earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March 2011, issues about nuclear energy and worries about operational safety have once again come to the fore. It is clear that dealing with safety is paramount in the nuclear industry, as the political, social and media scrutiny always influences the governmental decision makers, who have a duty to balance public concerns with the need to guarantee energy production.
The UK was one of the early pioneers of civil nuclear build and chose advanced gas cooled reactor design, which operates at high temperatures and where aggressive conditions, such as oxidation and corrosion, dramatically reduce safety. As a result, the UK nuclear industry embarked on a pragmatic approach to develop advanced safety codes to ensure that nuclear plants would run safely for an extended lifetime without endangering the public.
Since the 1970s, Imperial has been a major contributor in the field of nuclear energy research. At present, the College is an international leader in the research and development of novel concepts and safety methodologies in fracture mechanics. In 2008, Imperial established a Structural Integrity Centre in the Department of Mechanical Engineering sponsored by EDF Energy. At the Centre, a number of processes, including advanced testing for materials characterisation, virtual testing and life prediction methodologies, are being developed by an expert team that is supported by students. The fundamental research carried out at Imperial filters through to new design and international safety codes, which are continually being developed, improved and validated. The Centre leads the international field in extending the boundaries for predicting safe life in a nuclear industry. We believe that that the best way to establish a comprehensive approach to nuclear safety is to develop and apply fundamental concepts of structural integrity using multidisciplinary techniques.”