The Socio-Technical Risk Analysis (SoTeRiA) Research Laboratory, directed by Professor Zahra Mohaghegh, in the Department of Nuclear, Plasma and Radiological Engineering (NPRE) at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, provides scientific and innovative research solutions to complex real-world problems of safety, reliability, profitability, and security. The SoTeRiA Research Laboratory is evolving Probabilistic Risk Assessment (PRA) by explicitly incorporating the science of underlying accident causation into risk scenarios.

The SoTeRiA Research Laboratory is collaborating with the South Texas Project Nuclear Operating Company (STPNOC) on a $1M project for the  Department of Energy’s U.S. Industry Opportunities for Advanced Nuclear Technology Development Program to develop realistic models for Fire PRA and help increase realism in risk estimations for the nuclear industry. The SoTeRiA Research Laboratory is a partner in the International Atomic Energy Agency Coordinated Research Project “Methodology for Assessing Pipe Failure Rates in Advanced Water Cooled Reactors.”

The SoTeRiA Research Laboratory received three grants from the Department of Energy (DOE) Nuclear Energy University Program (NEUP), one to promote U.S. nuclear fleet sustainability by developing systematic scenario-based Integrated Enterprise Risk Management (I-ERM) technologies (Project #17-12614), another to advance the Integrated PRA (I-PRA) algorithm for the deployment of new technologies (Project #19-16298), and most recently a project to develop a probabilistic validation and risk importance ranking methodology for automation trustworthiness and transparency in nuclear power plants (Project #21-24380). As a pioneering laboratory in the spatiotemporal causal modeling of social and physical failure mechanisms in PRA, SoTeRiA received a five-year National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to incorporate Big Data Analytics into PRA. To advance uncertainty analysis processes in risk-informed regulatory framework for supporting simulation approaches for aging plants and advanced reactors, SoTeRiA received a $500,000 grant (2021-2024) from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). This research project, led by the SoTeRiA Research Laboratory, comprises a unique collaboration among experts from academia, national laboratories, and industry to develop a scientifically justifiable methodology for the validation of advanced simulation models under the Risk-Informed Regulatory (RIR) framework.

SoTeRiA functions as a pipeline for conducting basic science research studies and translating them into practical industrial research. SoTeRiA’s three key areas of scientific contributions to PRA include: Area (I) spatiotemporal coupling of physical failure mechanisms with human/social performance and the incorporation of this coupling into classical PRA using the Integrated PRA (I-PRA) methodology; Area (II) incorporating big data analytics into PRA, and Area (III) integrating safety risk and financial risk.

Maintaining close relationships with academia enables collaborators to have access to multidisciplinary experts from diverse engineering and social science backgrounds, and to react quickly to challenging research needs as they emerge. For example, partnering with STPNOC from 2013 to 2017, SoTeRiA contributed to developing an I-PRA approach for the risk-informed resolution of Generic Safety Issue 191 (GSI-191), which is related to the performance of the emergency core cooling system (ECCS) following a loss of coolant accident (LOCA). SoTeRiA provided academic oversight on technical reporting to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards (ACRS). SoTeRiA also provides education and outreach for the global risk analysis market. For example, in 2015, SoTeRiA developed and presented the U.S.-China Probabilistic Safety Assessment Workshop on “Risk-Informed Regulation and Safety Culture” in Shenzhen, China, as part of the DOE’s Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Technology (PUNT) program, which included 72 nuclear industry experts from 28 companies in China. Recently, SoTeRiA hosted a technical workshop, alongside IAEA collaborators, at the 2021 International Topical Meeting on Probabilistic Safety Assessment and Analysis (PSA 2021) to identify the needs and methodological challenges in risk-informed analysis for advanced nuclear power reactors and discuss research directions and paths to address those needs and challenges to facilitate the deployment of advanced reactors.

Increased competition and fluctuations in the commercial electric sales market have renewed focus on using risk-informed approaches for developing safe and cost-effective operational strategies for nuclear power plants. Addressing this issue and in collaboration with industry partners, Professor Mohaghegh established the Grainger College of Engineering SoTeRiA Industry Affiliates Program (IAP) for large-scale and cost-shared industry projects.

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