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New simulation laboratory and cybersecurity software installed at NERS

The software will be used to study methods of preventing cyberattacks on the instrumentation and control systems for nuclear power plants.

three men having a chuckle
Prof. Brendan Kochunas, Rafael Pires Barbosa, and Prof. John Lee during a training session in the new laboratory.

U-M Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences (NERS) now has a state-of-the-art Nuclear Plant Simulation Laboratory (NPSL) which will be used for cyber security research as well as in other research projects and as a teaching lab in NERS courses. 

The NPSL features Generic PWR (GPWR) simulation software that represents all phases of nuclear power plant operation at a level of accuracy acceptable for training licensed reactor operators. The software is developed by GSE Performance Solutions Inc.

The software will be heavily utilized by Professor Lee’s project, “Model-Based Diagnostics and Mitigation of Cyber Threats.” A successful cyberattack might result in an unscheduled shutdown or damaged equipment, and could end up costing a power plant upwards of $1 million dollars for every day the plant is shut down.  

Lee’s project endeavors to study cybersecurity by developing a toolkit for modeling digital instrumentation and control (I&C) systems for nuclear power plants so that the consequences of cyberattacks on I&C systems may also be modeled. Professor Lee stated, “the ability to model detailed I&C structures will significantly augment and advance simulation capability of engineering analysis tools for nuclear systems.” 

man pointing at large computer screen
Prof. John Lee

Working with Professor Lee are Ph.D. student Junjie Guo and masters students Steven Wacker and Rafael Pires Barbosa. Also collaborating on the project are Brookhaven and Idaho National Laboratories. The project is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Nuclear Energy University Program (NEUP).

Funding for the $100,000 NPSL came from Lee’s cybersecurity project as well as from the Fastest Path to Zero (headed by NERS Chair Todd Allen) and from Professor Kochunas.

Professor John Lee will be primarily responsible for the NPSL, with support from Professor Brendan Kochunas. Professor Kochunas commented, “NERS has world-class experimental facilities with ZEUS and MIBL, and the department has been strategically expanding its facilities in recent years. The establishment of the NPSL only strengthens that portfolio. Since the department decommissioned the Ford Nuclear Reactor there’s been a clear gap in the infrastructure supporting reactor systems. Recently, there have been huge gains in the thermal hydraulics facilities available to NERS, and it’s great to see the deployment of the GPWR system to further support research and educational activities in the area of reactor physics.” 

The NPSL will serve as a significant instructional aid in a number of NERS classes because of its invaluable ability to provide visualization of the detailed I&C system operation and interfaces of engineered safety features. Development of new research projects that incorporate advanced modeling, control, and instrumentation systems for next generation nuclear systems will also be aided by the NPSL.

The lab was installed earlier this week in the Engineering Research Building on North Campus.

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