Zahra Mohaghegh

Photograph
Title Professor, Director
Department Nuclear, Plasma and Radiological Engineering
Biography

Dr. Zahra Mohaghegh is the director of the Socio-Technical Risk Analysis (SoTeRiA) Research Laboratory. She has contributed to nuclear risk analysis through her scientific research and impactful educational and leadership roles. She is currently an associate professor in the Department of Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering (NPRE) at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). Zahra is the first woman in the NPRE department to have attained a tenured professorship, a step toward equality for women. She believes, however, that pioneering socio-technical risk analysis research and education has been her greatest accomplishment.

Zahra Mohaghegh established the Socio-Technical Risk Analysis (SoTeRiA) Research Laboratory at NPRE to advance nuclear risk science and applications. The SoTeRiA Laboratory has been making scholarly contributions to Probabilistic Risk Assessment (PRA) and bridging foundational PRA research with nuclear industry and regulatory needs. Dr. Mohaghegh and her team have published widely on: PRA for light-water and advanced nuclear reactors, probabilistic physics-of-failure analysis, human-systems reliability modeling, Artificial Intelligence (AI) for risk analysis, uncertainty quantification and validation, and risk-informed regulation and policymaking for technological systems.

Dr. Mohaghegh has made significant national-level contributions to risk analysis. She led the Risk Management focus area of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) review panel of the Carbon Free Power Project for the first small modular reactor (SMR) plant to begin operation in the United States. She was also the sole academic voice at the 2023 Nucelar Regulatory Commission (NRC) public meeting to brief the NRC Commissioners on university-led nuclear risk analysis research. Additionally, Zahra Mohaghegh has consistently applied her expertise in nuclear risk analysis to a wide array of technological challenges, enhancing policymaking and regulation across sectors. For example, she served as a member of the Committee on “Transport Airplane Risk Assessment Methodology” of the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. She is currently serving as a member of the Community of Experts on the “Implementation of Improvements to the Transport Airplane Risk Assessment Methodology”, and a member of the Committee on “Improving the Efficiency and Effectiveness of the Coast Guard Certificate of Compliance Examination Program for Gas Carriers” of the U.S. National Academies.

The SoTeRiA Laboratory has received noteworthy research grants from the U.S. DOE, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the NRC, the nuclear industry, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Dr. Mohaghegh was the Principal Investigator (PI) of an NSF grant, entitled “A Big Data-Theoretic Approach to Quantify Organizational Failure Mechanisms in Probabilistic Risk Assessment”. Catastrophic events such as the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster in Japan and the 2010 Macondo oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico have made it clear that the integration of physical and social causes of failure into socio-technical risk modeling frameworks is critical for safety analysis. This NSF research focused on theorizing and quantifying such a framework for the risk analysis of nuclear power reactors. Dr. Mohaghegh also served as the PI for a DOE grant to promote the sustainability of the U.S. nuclear fleet and an additional DOE grant to advance risk analysis algorithms for the deployment of new technologies in nuclear power plants. In addition, Dr. Mohaghegh’s research received industry grants, leading to industry-focused scientific innovation for risk analysis; for example, SoTeRiA laboratory contributed to the development of an integrated risk methodology for the risk-informed resolution of Generic Safety Issue 191 (GSI-191), a long-standing issue for commercial nuclear power plants and the NRC. Zahra Mohaghegh is currently the PI for an NRC grant to advance uncertainty analysis in support of the validation of simulation models used in the risk analysis of operating plants and advanced reactors, an NRC grant to advance digital twin technologies in risk-informed regulation, a newly-awarded NRC grant to advance risk-informed regulation for advanced reactors, a DOE grant for developing a risk-informed methodology to evaluate the trustworthiness and transparency of AI-based automation technologies in nuclear plants, and a newly-awarded DOE grant to advance dependency treatment in risk assessment of existing plants and new reactors.

With the aim of fostering a global effort on nuclear safety, Dr. Mohaghegh has initiated international research collaborations with, for example, the IAEA to develop risk methodologies for advanced reactors and the Japan Atomic Energy Agency to advance simulation models for risk-informed emergency preparedness and response. She is now a member of the Board of Directors of the International Association for Probabilistic Safety Assessment and Management (IAPSAM). Dr. Mohaghegh served as the Technical Chair for the 2013 American Nuclear Society (ANS) Risk Management topical meeting and as the Academic Chair for the 2017 International Topical Meeting on Probabilistic Safety Assessment and Analysis. She is now serving as the General Chair of the 2023 Probabilistic Safety Assessment and Management International Topical Meeting on “Risk Analysis and Artificial Intelligence.”

Zahra Mohaghegh teaches two PRA courses [ NPRE 461 and NPRE 561] that are offered both in-person and online. She has also been contributing to large-scale educational efforts to train the future nuclear workforce for risk-informed analysis; for example, in presenting “Modeling, Simulation, and Validation in Risk-Informed Analysis of Existing Plants and Advanced Reactors” at the 2023 MeV summer school at the Idaho National Laboratory, and also is actively supporting the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development-Nuclear Energy Agency (OECD-NEA) Nuclear Education, Skills, and Technology (NEST) SMR Project.

Dr. Mohaghegh was honored with the University of Illinois, College of Engineering Dean’s Award for Excellence in Research. She is the winner of the American Nuclear Society (ANS) Mary Jane Oestmann Award, conferred for her pioneering introduction of human and organizational factors into the risk analysis of complex technological systems (e.g., commercial nuclear power plants and advanced nuclear reactors, civil aviation, and oil industries). Dr. Mohaghegh is the recipient of the George Apostolakis Award in risk assessment and the Zonta International Award for modeling large-scale systems.

 

 

 

Email zahra13@nospam664aeb1aa8c6a.illinois.edu
Office 111 G Talbot Laboratory
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