Purdue University Graduate School

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posted on 2023-08-07, 12:47 authored by Konstantinos GkouliarasKonstantinos Gkouliaras

Recent advancements in reactor designs offer new capabilities, not seen before. To increase flexibility and reduce operation and maintenance costs, modern reactor designs (e.g., microreactors, SMRs) embrace new technologies which would allow revolutionary operational concepts such as remote monitoring and control, semiautonomous or near-autonomous operation, and two-way communications for real-time integration with the upcoming smart electric grid. Such a continuous data transmission from and towards a reactor site could introduce vulnerabilities and necessitates the prioritization of cybersecurity. However, classical IT-based encryption schemes have been shown to be vulnerable to cyberattacks, as they rely on computational complexity. It has been shown (e.g., Shor’s algorithm) that with the advent of quantum computing practically any asymmetric encryption could be broken within hours. To address this challenge, this thesis explores the feasibility of applying Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) to nuclear reactor communications. QKD is a physical-layer security scheme relying on the laws of quantum mechanics instead of mathematical complexity. QKD promises not only unconditional security but also detection of potential intrusion, as it allows the communication parties to become aware of eavesdropping. To test the proposed hypothesis, a novel simulation tool (NuQKD) was developed to allow for real-time simulation of the BB84 QKD protocol between two remote terminals. NuQKD offers new capabilities not currently available in other simulation tools including true random numbers, modeling of equipment imperfections, and modeling of fiber optic and free space quantum channels. NuQKD was rigorously benchmarked against analytical, numerical and experimental data. Then, a reference nuclear reactor scenario is proposed that is generic enough to cover various communications links internal and external to a reactor site. Using NuQKD, the internal and external data links of the nuclear reactor reference scenario were modeled, and the receiver operating characteristics (ROC) curves were calculated for various QKD configurations. It was found that that QKD can provide adequate key rates with low false alarm rates and has the potential of addressing nuclear industry’s high standards of confidentiality up to 100 km distance using fiber optic. As a result, QKD is shown to be compatible with the existing and future point-to-point reactor communication architectures. These results motivate further study of quantum communications for nuclear reactors.


DOE Office of Nuclear Energy’s Nuclear Energy University Program (under contract DE-NE00009174)


Degree Type

  • Master of Science


  • Nuclear Engineering

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Dr. Stylianos Chatzidakis

Additional Committee Member 2

Dr. Hany Abdel-Khalik

Additional Committee Member 3

Dr. Phil Evans