NC State Researchers Studying How To Use AI In Nuclear Power Plants

Jun 11, 2018

File photo of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station. Unit 1 is the functioning part of a once larger station. Unit 2 was involved in the 1979 partial core meltdown, that resulted in the worst civilian nuclear accident in United States history. It is no longer in operation.
Credit rowensphotography / Flickr, Creative Commons,

Nuclear reactors could eventually be largely controlled by artificial intelligence.  

The nuclear engineering department at N.C. State University has received a $3 million federal grant to study AI in nuclear power plants. 

N.C. State Nuclear Engineer Kostadin Ivanov said AI would detect potential problems before human observers see them, and alert the operator, who can then make a decision.

“There would be effective support to the operator for all ranges of conditions, starting from normal, off-normal, design based accidents all the way up to severe accidents, including external events similar to the earthquake in Fukushima,” Ivanov said.

The N.C. State researchers are part of a nationwide study on using artificial intelligence to control and monitor nuclear reactors.

The project is part of a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, which is trying to improve the efficiency and safety of nuclear power plants.  

Ivanov said an AI system would analyze large amounts of data to catch potential problems, but a human operator would still have ultimate control.

“When things happen, they happen very quickly, and you have to act currently in terms of seconds and minutes,” he said. “With the new system, you'll have more time, much more information and a guide, but at the end you should have somebody to make a decision.”

Ivanov said the system would not need to connect to the Internet, reducing the threat of hacking.