Professor Rama Gokaraju stands in a electrical and computer engineering laboratory
USask Engineering's Dr. Rama Gokaraju (PhD) will investigate electrical, digital control rooms, and cyber security issues surrounding SMRs. (Photo: Submitted)

Engineering professor leads SK team studying small modular nuclear reactors

A multidisciplinary team of Saskatchewan researchers was awarded federal funding for their groundbreaking work exploring various facets of the structure and operation of small modular reactors (SMR).

By Matt Olson

A proposal for SMR research spearheaded by Dr. Rama Gokaraju (PhD) of the University of Saskatchewan (USask) has received $360,000 from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). 

The NSERC-CNSC Small Modular Reactors Research Grant Initiative is intended to support research, training, and initiatives to increase the scientific information around the capacity and regulation of SMRs in Canada.  

SMRs are modern nuclear reactors constructed at a smaller size than standard reactors, making it possible to construct an SMR's different modules off-site and before bringing them to a different location for assembly.  

Gokaraju’s project is titled “Reliable and Secure Data-Sharing Architecture, Situational Awareness and Electrical-failure Modelling for SMRs” and covers multiple areas of SMR research.

Gokaraju, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is collaborating with University of Regina researchers Dr. Irfan Al-Anbagi (PhD) and Dr. Esam Hussein (PhD) to investigate electrical, digital control rooms, and cyber security issues surrounding SMRs.  

“We see a very strong future for small modular reactors,” he said. “This grant is a strong recognition of our work, and we strongly believe there has to be a lot of research and development in this area to make widespread use a reality.” 

The NSERC-funded project is divided into multiple parts, with Gokaraju leading an area of research exploring how SMRs handle electrical fluctuations and failures.  

Most SMRs are “load-following” generators, which means they output power as the demand for power requirements change. Gokaraju is using computer modelling of SMRs to examine how the reactors could respond to significant power disturbances and failures. 

“A lot of work on the reactor side goes into the safety of operation,” he said. “As an electrical engineer, the expertise I can bring is to the power grid side, to see how electrical failures would impact the reactor side and the electrical grid side operation.” 

Gokaraju’s work, in conjunction with Al-Anbagi and Hussein, will explore not only questions of energy and structure, but also involve publicly sharing data about SMRs to help people better understand the technology.  

Gokaraju says SMRs are crucial for the future power supply of Canada and the world. 

“We want to see how these SMRs, when they are operating in conjunction with renewable energy, help improve reliability and resiliency levels we have now,” he said.