Ep. 288, GAIN-NRIC Miniseries: John Jackson
Fracture Mechanics in Nuclear (1:19-13:45)
John Jackson shares his experience growing up living off-the-grid and how he got involved in mechanical engineering and fracture mechanics
Q: Tell me about your childhood.
A: John Jackson’s parents made a choice to live off-the-grid before he was born, living on a self-sustaining dairy farm in North Central Washington. He grew up with no telephone, no electricity, and only manually-pumped well water. John attended public school and was gradually eased into modern society. Growing up in this environment instilled John’s practical nature from a problem-solving standpoint. It also allowed John to understand the value of something that functioned well and the limited amount of resources available. From the time he got into math and science in high school, John realized he wanted to be a mechanical engineer. He attended Central Washington University in Ellensburg, WA to study mechanical engineering technology, a practically-focused curriculum with hands-on work like welding and operations design. The summer after graduation, John went to the then-called Idaho National Engineering Laboratory as a summer intern. This was his first exposure to advanced engineering with a purpose and led him to graduate school at the University of Washington where he received his Master’s and PhD in mechanical engineering. Both studies were focused on fracture mechanics working with the aviation industry. Stress corrosion cracking is one of the primary issues facing the existing nuclear fleet. Linear elastic fracture mechanics looks at the stress state of the crack tip at which point the material will fail. Plasticity and non-linear fracture mechanics looks at how a crack grows in a stable manner and characterizes that growth. Following his PhD, John went to the Idaho National Engineering & Environmental Laboratory (INEEL) to do a post-doctoral research assignment focused on fracture mechanics in waste containers. He later joined ExxonMobil in Houston to take his fracture mechanics knowledge into the fracking industry to develop a model for mitigation of mud loss, the lubricant used in a drill string.
The Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (13:45-24:23)
How John reconnected with the Idaho National Lab and got involved with the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear
Q: How did you come back to the nuclear industry?
A: John Jackson enjoyed his experience with ExxonMobil, but wanted to move back to the Pacific Northwest. In 2006, he looked for an opportunity to work with the national security directorate at Idaho National Laboratory (INL). John’s focus was on homeland security and quickly got consumed by the advanced test reactor then-called National Scientific User Facility, now known as the Nuclear Science User Facilities (NSUF). This allowed John to continue practicing in the fracture mechanics space, but also realize the abilities to solve problems within the national laboratory complex. The National Labs are taxpayer-funded resources that should be a resource for the nation. This is a tool in the nation’s toolbox for the public good. The Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) program provides a way to introduce the resource into mission space to help people use the National Lab tools to solve problems. GAIN looks for every opportunity to share resources and make it easier for the client. The original intent was to be a Private Public Partnership. Global warming is a problem of epic proportions. When working on critical and incredibly complex issues, the lab must be able to cut their teeth. Scientists and engineers are driven to create and solve problems. Laboratory Directive Research & Development is a great way for the laboratory to think about how to support industry. John led this division over the past couple years. This experience was a great way to integrate industry thinking into the way the lab develops lab scientists and engineers and help the lab address the Department of Energy (DOE) mission. The program is supporting industry, but also allows the lab to develop and continue to monitor and develop their own wellbeing.
GAIN Voucher Program (24:23-34:13)
How the GAIN vouchers connect nuclear technology developers and the resources available at the National Labs
Q: What is a voucher from the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) and how do people use them?
A: The Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) voucher is a competitively awarded sum of money to have one of the National Laboratories do something on your behalf. While there are funds associated with the voucher, there are relationship-builders and are about establishing an enduring technical relationship between an advanced nuclear technology developer and an advanced laboratory resource. It gives the National Lab personnel a snapshot into the way developers think and go about their business from a commercial perspective and gives the developer access to incredible unique capabilities and people burning to solve problems. Some self-encapsulated problems are solved through a voucher and may alter the course of research and development to allow commercialization to happen. Voucher awards may range from approximately $50,000 to upwards of $650,000. GAIN tends not to stray above $500,000 too often and attempts to stay within a one year scope of work. GAIN wants these projects to be rapid to address a problem for somebody and is not focused on sustained R&D. Oklo, the developer of the Aurora concept, was one of the flagship awardees in the GAIN program. Oklo has been granted a site permit to demonstrate on the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) site. They have leveraged the voucher program incredibly well, touching it only at points in which they needed to overcome an obstacle in their path. One of the early vouchers awarded to Oklo had GAIN accessing some legacy data and understanding some complexity associated with a technical issue related to fabrication. GAIN is constantly looking for opportunities to make the process more efficient and remove burden from the industry participant. It feeds into contracting modernization efforts that GAIN is also getting into. Vouchers are used as an opportunity to see problems that need to be solved. To be completely useful to industry, GAIN may find a different path to solve a problem for a developer that could solve a problem for other nuclear developers as well. This allows GAIN to do the work within the complex with GAIN funding to solve a problem without worrying about contracting. DOE programs are not a catch-all and have a budget they have to adhere to, so GAIN programs sometimes fill in the gaps.
A Common Nuclear Vision (34:13-45:35)
Why the nuclear industry must unite to work towards demonstrations of new nuclear technology to fight climate change globally
Q: Since the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) has a tighter communication channel with developers and industry, does the Department of Energy look for information on program direction?
A: Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) has started talking to the National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA) a lot, which wants to engage more in the advanced nuclear space. NNSA focuses on non-proliferation, export control, and safeguard security. The GAIN initiative has been emulated in Japan and the United Kingdom. One common trait on the GAIN team is empathy, the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand their problems. Camaraderie and having a trustworthy team leads towards emulating success and striving towards a common good. John Jackson firmly believes a microreactor will be demonstrated within the next five years, if not more than one. A lot of great minds and truly dedicated people are working on this technology. John also believes a larger concept will be demonstrated within the next six or seven years. That first demonstration will generate a lot of momentum. The practical nature of solving a problem, putting your hands on it and doing it, is the surest way to generate momentum. People at the National Laboratory complex are starting to point in the same direction, and if that happens and they start to work cohesively as a team, losing the individualistic tendencies, a microreactor demonstration could happen in three years. However, individualism is human nature. John has a sense of ownership in the world as a living being on the planet. He feels responsible for solving these problems. He believes that nuclear energy is part of the solution - if not the solution.