A transformational challenge: Making crack-free yttrium hydride

Fabricated yttrium hydride samples are pulled out of the system. Photo: ORNL

Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientists have developed a method to produce solid yttrium hydride for use as a moderator for the Transformational Challenge Reactor (TCR), a 3-MWt additively manufactured microreactor that ORNL aims to demonstrate by 2023. Lacking a commercial supply of the metal hydride, ORNL scientists developed a system to produce yttrium hydride in large quantities and to exacting standards.

The hydrogen density and moderating efficiency of metal hydrides—which combine a rare earth metal with hydrogen—could enable smaller reactor cores that can operate more efficiently and reduce waste products, according to ORNL. The material could be used in other advanced reactor designs, including space power and propulsion systems for NASA, and has been proposed as a shield component for thermalization and neutron absorption in fast-spectrum nuclear reactors.

DOE prepares experimental Oak Ridge reactor for deactivation

OREM and cleanup contractor UCOR are set to fully deactivate the Experimental Gas-Cooled Reactor at Oak Ridge for eventual demolition. Photo:DOE

With work recently completed on the removal of a former uranium enrichment complex at the East Tennessee Technology Park (ETTP), the Department of Energy is shifting focus to other remediation projects around the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. On October 27, the DOE announced that the Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management (OREM) is set to begin cleanup of the Experimental Gas-Cooled Reactor at the site.

OREM and cleanup subcontractor UCOR are in the planning stages to fully deactivate the reactor for eventual demolition. The reactor is one of 16 inactive research reactors and isotope facilities that OREM is addressing and cleaning up at Oak Ridge. The cleanup effort will happen concurrently with other OREM cleanup projects underway at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge.

Report weighs prospects for aging High Flux Isotope Reactor

Routine refueling of the HFIR in July 2015. Photo: Genevieve Martin/ORNL

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.

CASL completes 10-year mission

The Department of Energy established the Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors (CASL) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in 2010 as a national collaboration of government, academia, and industry to help the nuclear industry extend the life of the current reactor fleet and develop more efficient next-generation reactors. On August 13, ORNL issued a news release and video to celebrate the achievements of CASL, which concluded its mission in June.

X-rays size up protein structure at the “heart” of COVID-19 virus

Overlapping X-ray data of the SARS-CoV-2 main protease shows structural differences between the protein at room temperature (orange) and the cryogenically frozen structure (white). Graphic: Jill Hemman/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

A team of researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge and Argonne national laboratories has performed the first room-temperature X-ray measurements on the SARS-CoV-2 main protease, the enzyme that enables the virus to reproduce.

The X-ray measurements mark an important first step in the researchers’ ultimate goal of building a comprehensive 3D model of the enzymatic protein.

General Chair’s Special Session: Advanced reactors in uncertain times

The final plenary session of the American Nuclear Society's 2020 Virtual Annual Meeting was the General Chair’s Special Session, held on Wednesday, June 10. The session contained much information about the current and future role of advanced reactor technology. The session, with the subtitle “The Promise of Advanced Reactors during Uncertain Times: National Security, Jobs and Clean Energy,” featured two panels: the Lab Directors Roundtable and the Advanced Reactor Panel. The general chair is Mark Peters, Idaho National Laboratory director. The session was moderated by Corey McDaniel, of Idaho National Laboratory, and the assistant general chair of the Annual Meeting.

A few of the issues covered during the dual plenary session included challenges to advanced reactor deployment, public-private partnerships in research and development, nuclear non-proliferation and security, workforce issues, and market conditions and demand.

ITER reaches major construction milestone

The 1,250-ton cryostat base is positioned over the ITER tokamak pit for installation. The base is the heaviest lift of the tokamak assembly. Photo: ITER

ITER, the world’s largest international scientific collaboration, is beginning the assembly of the fusion reactor tokamak that will include 12 essential hardware systems provided by US ITER, which is managed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The first major machine element to be installed is the 1,250-ton base of the cryostat, which was placed into the tokamak assembly pit on May 26. ITER is located in southeastern France.

Oak Ridge developing 3D-printed nuclear reactor core

3D-printed components for the prototype reactor. Photo: Britanny Cramer/ORNL/U.S. Department of Energy

A 3D-printed nuclear reactor core prototype being developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory is a step toward reaching the goal of creating an advanced, full-sized, 3D-printed reactor by 2023 at the lab.

Experimental Breeder Reactor I: A retrospective

In the not-so-distant 20th century past, our planet was in an uncertain new-world order. The second of two major wars had dramatically reshaped the landscape of the world's nations. It was not by any means assured that the extraordinary nuclear process of fission, which itself had been discovered mere years before the second war's end, would be successfully utilized for anything but the tremendous and frightening powers realized in thermonuclear warheads. In the years following, a humble project materializing out of the National Reactor Testing Station in Idaho was to challenge that assertion and demonstrate that nuclear fission could indeed be a commercial, peaceful source of electrical power for civilizations around the globe.