The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011 was caused in part by flooding that killed the power generators needed to maintain the plant's monitoring and cooling system. So, how could you prevent something like this in the future? How about by making systems that are self-powering, relying on the energy produced by the plant itself?
At the Acoustical Society of America's 164th meeting, researchers from Penn State University will be presenting a way of creating nuclear fuel monitors that are powered by the heat created by nuclear reactions. A thermoacoustic standing wave engine could be built inside of a fuel rod, an engine that would resonate based on the temperature of the fuel. In other words, this would be a way of monitoring what temperature the core is running without requiring electricity.
And, as a bonus, the modified fuel rod would be more efficient at distributing heat, too.
Penn State grad student Randall A. Ali described the device in a release:
"Thermoacoustics exploits the interaction between heat and sound waves.Thermoacoustic sensors can operate without moving parts and don't require external power if a heat source, such as fuel in a nuclear reactor, is available...We used stacks made from a ceramic material with a regular array of parallel pores that's manufactured as the substrate for catalytic converters found in many automotive exhaust systems. These stacks facilitate the transfer of heat to the gas in a resonator, and heat is converted to sound when there's a temperature difference along the stack."
It's a no-brainer to tap the energy of a plant to power itself, but doing it a non-electrical way provides a great failsafe in the event of disaster.