INL continues to fine-tune TREAT testing capabilities

August 28, 2020, 10:25AMNuclear News

Idaho National Laboratory’s Transient Reactor Test Facility, also known as TREAT, returned to service in 2017 after a hiatus of more than two decades. To make full use of TREAT’s capabilities, researchers at INL created the Minimal Activation Retrievable Capsule Holder (MARCH) test vehicle system, which, according to an August 26 Department of Energy press release, can cut years off the development process for nuclear fuels and materials and allow new clients, like NASA, to take advantage of TREAT’s capabilities.

A partially assembled capsule for the MARCH System. (Photo: INL)

What is MARCH? The MARCH system enables rapid analysis and permits the use of smaller test samples. According to the DOE, the key components include a specimen holder that can be tailored to deliver the desired neutron exposure, temperatures, and local thermal/cooling environment for a given experiment, and a reusable safety capsule. Small samples are placed inside the specimen holder, which is then inserted in the reusable safety capsule. That safety capsule is inserted in TREAT.

“The MARCH modular design expands TREAT’s unique capabilities by making experiment innovation cycles

TREAT operations staff hoisting the MARCH System over the core shield for reactor loading. (Photo: INL)

much faster and more affordable,” the DOE said. “The classic method required large-scale, fully integrated experiments that took years to design and were costly to build. This made it difficult for smaller federal agencies, industry, and universities to take advantage of the nation’s only transient test reactor.” A process that once took two to three years to complete can now be accomplished in one year.

Background: MARCH was developed over the course of three years through a series of INL Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) efforts supported by the DOE to help meet the emerging data and experimental demands of today’s scientific community.

“This LDRD project applied proof-of-concept research to help grow an innovative concept for doing experiments in the TREAT reactor and turned it into a practical framework that paved the way for all of the modern transient research performed to date,” said Nick Woolstenhulme, the lead TREAT experiment design engineer.

In fact, LDRD research has inspired nine new test modules that will provide greater flexibility for scientific discovery in future irradiation experiments.

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