Probabilistic Risk Assessment @ University of Illinois : SoTeRiA Fire

The Socio-Technical Risk Analysis (SoTeRiA) Research Laboratory, directed by Associate Professor Zahra Mohaghegh, in the Department of Nuclear, Plasma and Radiological Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is a multidisciplinary research laboratory that has a proven track record of developing scientific and innovative approaches for risk assessment, risk management, and risk-informed decision-making and regulation. SoTeRiA’s research focuses on maintaining or improving a high level of safety in technological systems such as commercial nuclear power plants, while reducing the cost of operations. This scientific work helps create a pathway that would enhance the economic viability of the nuclear industry at a time when carbon-free energy resources play a critical role in mitigating climate change.

SoTeRiA advances the science of Probabilistic Risk Assessment (PRA) and its applications for complex technological systems, making scholarly contributions in three areas: Area (I) spatiotemporal coupling of physical failure mechanisms with human/social performance and the incorporation of this coupling into PRA using a static-dynamic Integrated PRA (I-PRA) methodology; Area (II) incorporating big data analytics into PRA, and Area (III) integrating safety risk and financial risk. These three areas are operationalized in various research projects funded by national and international funding agencies and have been reported in more than sixty SoTeRiA publications (, earning a large number of citations. With the desire to create an international think-tank for safety, SoTeRiA has conducted research collaborations, for example, with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to develop risk methodologies for advanced reactors and with the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) to advance simulation models for risk-informed emergency preparedness and response. SoTeRiA’s research studies have also received funding from several national sponsors, for example, from the Department of Energy (DOE) for advancing the I-PRA algorithm for the deployment of new technologies, DOE for Enterprise Risk Management (ERM), National Science Foundation (NSF) for big data analytics in PRA, and from the nuclear industry for the risk-informed resolution of Generic Safety Issue 191 (GSI-191) and for fire PRA.

Fire safety is as important, if not more so, in commercial nuclear power plants as it is in other energy and domestic applications. Fire safety of nuclear power plants is ensured by fire protection designs and regulations. To improve the assessment and management of plant fire risk, members of the SoTeRiA Research Laboratory including Ph.D. students Sari Alkhatib and Ha Bui, Research Assistant Professor Tatsuya Sakurahara, Research Scientist Seyed Reihani, Research Associate Ernie Kee, and Associate Professor Zahra Mohaghegh, in collaboration with nuclear industry partners and the Illinois Fire Service Institute, are conducting research on fire PRA methodologies and their full-scale application for a nuclear power plant. In this project, a computational platform, “SoTeRiA Fire,” has been developed that will significantly reduce the burden on the plant operator to estimate the level of fire risk at various locations within a nuclear power plant locations. The developed code leverages fire simulation software approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to assess fire progression and spread in single- and multi-compartment fire scenarios. The SoTeRiA fire code provides multiple options for initial and boundary conditions, representing different levels of realism and data requirements. Using this “risk-informed” technology, the commercial nuclear power plant operators can most efficiently apply resources to minimize the fire-related risk while reducing costs of operation and maintenance. Further information on fire PRA research can be found on the SoTeRiA Research Laboratory website (

SoTeRiA laboratory continues to promote PRA research and education because next-generation leaders must begin to think differently, using risk-informed solutions to initiate safe, resilient, sustainable, and socially responsible technological advancements to usher in an era void of technological accidents.

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