2012 IR&D Annual Report

Assessment of the Viability of Electronic Components in a High-Radiation Environment, 20-R8291

Principal Investigators
Ronald Green
Gregory Willden
Ben Abbott
Roland Benke
David White
Ryan Wilson
Jay Fisher
John Hageman
Keith Pickens
Glenn Light

Inclusive Dates:  02/01/12 – 05/01/12

Background — SwRI has developed a class of wireless sensor networks to sense, detect, and measure a wide range of environmental state variables and properties. Sensor networks have remotely measured and characterized underwater caves, conduits, and pipes. SwRI was asked to evaluate the potential of this sensor technology to assist in characterizing damage to the interior of the Fukushima Daiichi reactors. This sensor technology is of interest because of its ability to remotely map and characterize chambers and conduits not easily accessible using conventional technologies.

The reactor core and pressure vessels at Fukushima Daiichi incurred damage during the earthquake/tsunami disaster in March 2011. The full extent of that damage has not yet been adequately characterized. Characterization is difficult because of high radiation levels present at, and proximal to, the Fukushima reactors. The usefulness of sensors to characterize the interior of the Fukushima reactors is contingent on the sensors ability to remotely operate in a high-radiation environment. There is interest in modifying existing SwRI sensor technology to be applicable to this characterization activity.

Approach — Analysis and testing of the electronic components of the wireless sensors were undertaken to ascertain whether sensor technology used at SwRI can successfully operate in the high-radiation environment at the Fukushima reactors. Analyses were conducted to approximate the radiation dose anticipated for the interior of the reactor containment vessel and to estimate the expected performance of common electronic components to that level of radiation. Specific electronic components used in wireless networks developed at SwRI were then exposed to radiation consistent with levels estimated for the reactor containment vessels after nuclear criticality has ceased.

Accomplishments — Results from these tests indicate that existing electronic components used in wireless sensor networks will be viable for reasonable durations (i.e., about one hour or more) when deployed in high-radiation fields up to 25 krads/hr. With the exception of the camera, additional radiation hardening does not appear necessary for the candidate electronic components to remain operational and produce useable data in the high-radiation environments expected at the Fukushima Daiichi reactors.

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Southwest Research Institute® (SwRI®), headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, is a multidisciplinary, independent, nonprofit, applied engineering and physical sciences research and development organization with 10 technical divisions.