Areas of Expertise

The Board applies a wide range of expertise in science and engineering in carrying out its mission of safety oversight of the Department of Energy’s defense nuclear facilities. The Board has assembled a staff with education and experience in fields important to the design, construction, operation, and eventual decommissioning of defense nuclear facilities. The areas of expertise most important to the Board’s work, and the particular focus within each area, are summarized below:

Chemical Engineering and Chemistry

The Board’s chemical engineers and chemists review nuclear chemical processing, storage and treatment of radioactive wastes, and nuclear explosive operations. This involves expertise in process chemistry, radiochemistry, nuclear chemical separations processes, mixing of complex fluids, flammable gas phenomena, detonation theory, high explosives, and computer modeling of chemical processes.

Civil Engineering

The Board’s civil engineers include structural engineers who specialize in reviewing the design of defense nuclear facilities and environmental engineers who specialize in reviewing nuclear waste treatment and disposal. Civil-structural engineers apply their expertise in analyzing the structural adequacy of new and aging facilities, systems, and components for natural phenomena loads (seismic, wind, snow, volcanic ash, etc.) as well as soil-structure interaction and foundation design. Civil-environmental engineers focus their expertise on the unit operations involved in processing radioactive wastes into forms suitable for disposal.

Earthquake Engineering

The Board’s geotechnical engineers evaluate the potential ground motions from seismic activity at the sites of the Department of Energy’s defense nuclear facilities. The probability and severity of seismic activity are important factors in the structural design of defense nuclear facilities.

Electrical Engineering

The Board’s electrical engineers review the safety and reliability of power distribution and backup power systems in defense nuclear facilities; the reliability of instrumentation and control systems important to safety; the safety of electrical and electronic equipment that interfaces with nuclear explosives in assembly, disassembly, and surveillance operations; and associated software quality assurance measures. This involves expertise in electrical components and systems used in nuclear facilities, the design and operation of instrumentation and control systems and components such as programmable logic controllers, and computer modeling of power distribution systems. The Board’s electrical engineers also apply expertise in electromagnetic fields and static electrical phenomena to evaluate hazards posed by lightning and electrostatic discharge.

Fire Protection Engineering

The Board’s fire protection engineers review fire safety at defense nuclear facilities. Their expertise includes knowledge of the development and implementation of fire protection programs and strategies; the design, operation, and maintenance of fire protection systems and components including fire barriers, automatic suppression systems, fire water supplies and pumps, and fire detection and alarm systems; and computer modeling of fire scenarios.

Mechanical Engineering

The Board’s materials engineers review safety issues related to the performance and degradation of materials used in safety-related systems and components at defense nuclear facilities. This involves expertise in degradation mechanisms such as fatigue, wear, erosion, corrosion, and creep; radiation damage in metals, plastics, and other materials; nondestructive inspection methods used in surveillance of nuclear systems and components; failure analysis; and welding and other repair techniques.

Nuclear Engineering

The Board’s nuclear engineers review nuclear chemical processing, storage and treatment of radioactive wastes, nuclear criticality safety, strategies for performing work in nuclear facilities, and radiation dosimetry programs used to monitor worker exposure to radiation. This involves expertise in radiation health physics, radiation shielding, nuclear criticality, radiochemistry, and nuclear chemical separations processes.