August 18, 2023

NRC Commissioner Bradley Crowell Tours PNNL’s Nuclear Energy Research Labs

Bradley Crowell with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission sees advanced materials integrity, radiological measurement, and environmental capabilities on his first visit to PNNL

NRC Commissioner Bradley Crowel

Commissioner Bradley Crowell with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspects a reactor component during a tour of PNNL's nondestructive evaluation laboratory with researchers Aaron Diaz (right) and Rick Jacob (back). PNNL's nondestructive evaluation capabilities help the NRC sustain the fleet of nuclear power plants by providing state-of-the-art sensors and techniques for flaw detection, sizing, and materials characterization.

(Photo by Andrea Starr | Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)

Sustaining the nation’s fleet of nuclear power plants and safely deploying the next generation of advanced reactors were the focus of a visit by Commissioner Bradley Crowell from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). Crowell has more than 20 years of experience in the fields of energy, environment, natural resources, climate change, and national security, including executive leadership positions in federal and state government. He was sworn in as an NRC commissioner in August 2022 and is serving the remainder of a five-year term through June 2027.

The August 9 tour was Crowell’s first visit to the PNNL campus in Richland, WA. Presentations by PNNL researchers showcased the diverse subject matter expertise and specialized facilities that support NRC’s regulatory activities, especially on reactor safety oversight, reactor license renewal of existing plants, materials safety oversight and materials licensing, and radioactive waste management.

“It was a pleasure to host Commissioner Crowell for his first visit to PNNL and have the opportunity to introduce him to our staff who enable the Laboratory’s long-standing support to the NRC,” Laboratory Director Steven Ashby said. “We’re proud to be providing solutions for the NRC’s mission of sustaining the current nuclear power fleet and paving the way for future deployment of advanced reactors—all toward the nation’s clean energy and decarbonization goals.”

Crowell was greeted by Erick Flieger of the Department of Energy Pacific Northwest Site Office and Jud Virden, associate laboratory director for the Energy and Environment Directorate. The visit kicked off with an overview of PNNL’s science and technology portfolio and priorities, as well as an in-depth overview of the Energy and Environment Directorate’s support of NRC efforts.

PNNL has a long heritage of supporting the nation’s nuclear energy programs. A combination of science and technology expertise, a unique history of providing technical solutions to the Hanford Site cleanup, and highly equipped and modern facilities enable laboratory experts to use substantial resources to help solve the nation's nuclear energy challenges. Mark Nutt, director of the nuclear energy market sector, gave Crowell a summary of PNNL’s nuclear energy research programs. Katie Wagner gave Crowell highlights about the history between PNNL and the NRC, which has spanned over 45 years, before taking him on tours of the laboratories where research discovery takes place.

“I’m impressed by the dedication and commitment of PNNL’s staff and the lab’s unique capabilities. Our decades-long partnership with PNNL plays a central role in the NRC executing its mission,” Crowell said.

Commissioner Bradley Crowell (lower right) and Technical Advisor David Brown (upper right) with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission learn about PNNL's low scatter neutron facility from researchers Kim Piper (upper left) and Jake Bohlke. Inside this reinforced concrete shielded room, highly accurate and precise irradiation measurements for dosimeters and detectors are provided. (Photo by Andrea Starr | Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)

Tour stops included the Radiological Exposures and Metrology Lab (318 Building), the Aquatic Research Laboratory, the Advanced Wireless Communications Lab, and research laboratories focused on the integrity of components and materials in extreme environments like nuclear power plants.

Crowell also had the opportunity to tour the Material Science and Technology Building’s stress corrosion cracking labs and ongoing research to study degradation mechanisms that occur in nuclear power plant components. Crowell then visited the Nondestructive Evaluation Laboratory, including the ARENA cable test bed. Research conducted in the Nondestructive Evaluation Laboratory tests the impacts of extreme environments like those found in nuclear power plants on material degradation, supporting NRC regulatory research activities.

Researchers gave a series of flash talks about their current research projects to the commissioner. Presentations included environmental support, tribal engagement and consultation, environmental justice, decommissioning of retired nuclear power plants, transportation of nuclear materials, the Radiation Protection Computer Code Analysis and Maintenance Program (RAMP), fuel reviews and accident tolerant fuels, advanced reactors and digital instrumentation and controls, risk assessment, and human factors.