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A Roadmap to Participatory Design of Nuclear Energy Infrastructure


Nuclear energy’s powerful potential to advance decarbonization of the energy sector is compromised by a number of legacy issues. Historically, developers have failed to engage host communities as part of the design and development process. The development of legacy nuclear facilities – uranium mines, waste disposition sites, and technology demonstration sites, and in some cases, even reactors – near or on indigenous lands, has displaced or disrupted the ways of life of indigenous communities. Land and water resources risk contamination in the event of an accident. The development of these facilities – particularly reactors – has also involved unduly high costs and lead times. To reduce barriers to new nuclear energy development, these issues must be addressed from the earliest stages of technology design processes.

Many nuclear reactor designers are actively trying to avoid repeating history’s missteps by designing smaller, less complex, potentially factory-fabricable, safer reactors. Increasingly, designers recognize the complementary need to incorporate community input early on. Simultaneously, communities that are likely to host such reactor facilities are keen to provide input. However, both designers and communities lack a systematic approach or methodology to engage with each other such that community input can be incorporated into reactor design.

This project will lay the groundwork for the development of a participatory approach to the design of nuclear energy infrastructure. Building on previously developed participatory design approaches in other engineering domains and insights garnered through consultations with reactor designers at Westinghouse and host community members identified by the Energy Communities Alliance, the research team aims to secure long-term funding to produce a methodology that can be utilized in the development of small reactors that serve as community-scale power supplies. This important work will help ensure the equitable and just deployment of new nuclear energy.

Project team and partners: Aditi Verma, PI (Engineering); Shanna Daly, Co-PI (Engineering); Michael Craig, Co-PI (SEAS); Diane Hirshberg (University of Alaska Anchorage); Tim Kalke (Sustainable Energy for Galena, AK); Joseph Halackna (Westinghouse); Harold Maguire (Westinghouse); Kara Colton (Energy Communities Alliance)

University of Michigan - Engineering
University of Michigan - Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute
Research Areas