This summer, the Department of Energy’s Basic Energy Sciences Advisory Committee (BESAC) completed a report, The Scientific Justification for a U.S. Domestic High-Performance Reactor-Based Research Facility, that recommends the DOE begin preparing to replace the pressure vessel of the High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and to convert the facility to use low-enriched uranium fuel. It also recommends that work begin that could lead to a new research reactor. An article published on the American Institute of Physics website summarizes the report, which was requested by the DOE in 2019.
HFIR is an important source of medical radioisotopes, including actinium-227, and is one of two U.S. government reactors used for neutron scattering research. First criticality was achieved in August 1965, and while HFIR could potentially operate for several more decades without a major renovation, the report points to an opportunity to simultaneously replace its pressure vessel, implement upgrades, and convert it from the use of high-enriched uranium to low-enriched uranium fuel.
ORNL recently completed a study, which is included as an appendix to the report, that concludes that HFIR can be converted to use uranium silicide dispersion fuel that would fall just under the classification of high-assay low-enriched uranium. The BESAC report endorsed that proposal.