Uppsala alumna awarded for Master’s dissertation on nuclear power technology

Emma Ekberg Berry

Uppsala alumna Emma Ekberg Berry recently accepted the Sigvard Eklund Prize for her degree project on wear in control rod drives at the Forsmark nuclear power plant. “I was pleasantly surprised and astonished”.

The SEK 35,000 prize was awarded by the Swedish Centre for Nuclear Technology (SKC) at a conference in October. This was the first time that the Sigvard Eklund Prize has been awarded to a Master’s dissertation written at Uppsala University, although SKC has previously recognised Uppsala students with awards for degree projects in Bachelor of Science in Engineering or Bachelor’s essays.

As a student in the Master’s Programme in Energy Systems Engineering, specialising in nuclear power, the choice of degree project was a natural fit for Emma Ekberg Berry. Having started work at the Forsmark nuclear power plant in January 2020, it was not long before she was offered an assignment.

“They had noticed increased wear in the drive units that insert control rods, the brake mechanism for the reactor. This demanded an investigation of both the causes of increased wear and what can be done to avoid it. Within these parameters, I had free rein to design the degree project as I saw fit. I chose to follow slightly different routes and test various methods,” explains Emma Ekberg Berry.

Condition monitoring a hot topic

She decided to begin by mapping current wear and historical knowledge from other power plants based on literature studies. She and her supervisor then developed a new maintenance plan for control rod drives specifically to avoid wear and tear. However, in Emma Ekberg Berry’s opinion, the main reason for the award was her discovery of the importance of identifying wear to drives at an early juncture. She herself initiated this analysis.

“The drives supply a power curve and by monitoring and analysing this with the help of other power curves, in principle one can identify wear and tear at an early stage. This type of condition monitoring is very much in vogue in the nuclear power industry right now. My conclusions suggest that wear has increased at certain positions in the core.”

Seeing the bigger picture

The analyses – often performed manually – were based on comparisons between data sets and data curves. According to Emma Ekberg Berry, the application of artificial intelligence and machine learning should provide even better comparison methods, although this is not her principal area of expertise.

“My strength lies in seeing the bigger picture of a process and weaving the many threads together. This has allowed me to take on this massive degree project and still be able to identify new aspects that were not really part of my original remit,” she says.

“I am also immensely grateful for all of the help I received from Forsmark’s energy group and from Uppsala University and my supervisor Mattias Lantz, who nominated me and helped a great deal with my work.”

Master’s programme provided versatility

After graduating in June 2020, Emma Ekberg Berry was offered a permanent position at Forsmark, where she now works on the maintenance of electrical components. She feels that the Master’s Programme in Energy Systems Engineering gave her considerable versatility and the ability to absorb knowledge at a high pace. Considering the breadth of her current duties, this has come in very useful.

She is thriving in the job and is keen to continue with project management and the organisation of engineering work within the energy industry.

“I feel that I am developing a great deal right now and can apply my engineering skills to my work, which is very rewarding.”

Anneli Björkman