NRC investigates improper fuel use at University of Texas research reactor

November 23, 2022, 12:02PMANS Nuclear Cafe
The TRIGA Mark II nuclear research reactor. (Photo: University of Texas)

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has conducted a special inspection at the University of Texas’s TRIGA Mark II nuclear research reactor in Austin to evaluate the use of improper fuel. The inspection was ordered following a notification from the University of Texas—Austin to the NRC that the research reactor had been operating for several months with two fuel elements that were not licensed for the reactor.

Abilene Christian’s NEXT Lab reaches milestone in molten salt reactor research

November 14, 2022, 7:02AMNuclear News
Research engineers take a sample of molten salt for the NEXT Lab. (Photo: Jeremy Enlow/Steelshutter)

The Nuclear Energy eXperimental Testing (NEXT) Laboratory at Abilene Christian University in Texas created quite a bit of buzz within the nuclear community in August when it submitted the first application for a new U.S. research reactor in more than 30 years. The construction permit application submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is for a molten salt research reactor (MSRR)—the first-ever university application for an advanced research reactor. Assuming NRC acceptance of the application, which could happen this year, a formal technical review of the lab’s MSRR plan will then begin, and construction of the MSRR could be completed by 2025. The Abilene campus’s new Science and Engineering Research Center—a 28,000-square-foot multiuse facility for chemistry, physics, and engineering research and education—is expected to be completed by July 2023 and will house the advanced reactor. The final step is to obtain the NRC operating license for the MSRR and commence operation.

NC State’s PULSTAR reactor wins DOE award to coincide with 50th anniversary

October 14, 2022, 6:55AMNuclear News

NSCU's PULSTAR research reactor. (Photo: NCSU)

The Department of Nuclear Engineering at North Carolina State University marked the 50th anniversary in September of its PULSTAR research reactor, a milestone that was featured in the department’s fall newsletter. The nuclear reactor, located in the Burlington Laboratory on university’s north campus, has been in use since 1972 by research faculty and staff in the University of North Carolina system and other academic institutions, as well as by government agencies and companies in North Carolina and throughout the United States.

One further reason the university is celebrating this year is the infrastructure award that the PULSTAR reactor just received from the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy (NE). This financial award will help “facilitate an upgrade and enhancement to safety, operations, and utilization infrastructure.”

Nuclear Reactor Program: The PULSTAR reactor and its associated instrumentation are administered by NCSU’s Nuclear Reactor Program (NRP), which is a partner of the Nuclear Science User Facilities of Idaho National Laboratory. The NRP’s mission is “to enhance, promote, and utilize the PULSTAR research reactor and associated facilities in an exemplary manner, leading to national recognition as a premier 1-MW Nuclear Reactor Program dedicated to research, teaching, and extension.” The NRP began in 1950 with the construction of the R-1 reactor, the first academic research nuclear reactor in the world. The current director of the program is Ayman Hawari, distinguished professor of nuclear engineering.

SATER returns the Philippines to nuclear research and training

September 2, 2022, 9:30AMANS Nuclear Cafe
The Philippine Research Reactor-1 building at the University of the Philippines. (Photo: PNRI)

The research reactor known as SATER (Subcritical Assembly for Training, Education, and Research), housed in at the Philippine Research Reactor-1 building at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City, has become operational. As recently reported by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the core of SATER was loaded with 44 fuel rods, bringing the Philippines its first operational nuclear reactor in 34 years. Through this event, the country has moved a big step closer to meeting the government’s goal of adding nuclear power to its energy resources. The reactor is expected to become fully operational by 2023.

NIST gets confirmatory order 18 months after research reactor fuel failure

August 3, 2022, 7:01AMNuclear News
NIST's Center for Neutron Research in suburban Gaithersburg, Md. (Photo: NIST)

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced on August 2 that it had issued a confirmatory order to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) for violating NRC requirements during a February 2021 fuel failure at the 20-MWt NIST Center for Neutron Research (NCNR) research reactor in Gaithersburg, Md. NIST committed to improving its training for fuel handing procedures and related management activities, safety culture program, reactor facility operations staff and management, corrective action program and operational procedures, and emergency response resources and procedures, among other things.

New reactor on campus? UIUC’s choice for research, education, and training

April 8, 2022, 3:06PMNuclear NewsCaleb Brooks
Image: USNC

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign formed a partnership with Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation to deploy an advanced research reactor on campus, based on a microreactor design that improves upon well-established high-temperature, gas-cooled reactor (HTGR) technology. Unlike traditional research reactors, our focus at UIUC is not on a laboratory tool to study radiation interactions with matter, or even on the production of radioisotopes. Instead, we will build a research, education, and training facility intended to help advanced reactor technology become a widely deployable, marketable, economic, safe, and reliable option for a clean energy future. If successful, the USNC-designed Micro Modular Reactor (MMR)a would operate on UIUC’s campus with the capability to advance critical and enabling technologies required for advanced reactors to realize their full potential, while educating and training the workforce as a key step toward delivering on the technology’s promise. Microreactors can become a transformative distributed energy technology and revolutionize energy infrastructure worldwide.

NRC probe of NIST reactor fuel failure finds apparent violations

March 21, 2022, 7:02AMNuclear News
The NIST Center for Neutron Research in Gaithersburg, Md. (Photo: NIST)

In the 13 months since a fuel element failure triggered a scram of the research reactor at the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s NIST Center for Neutron Research (NCNR), the event and its causes have been scrutinized by both NIST and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Initial conclusions from an NRC special inspection released on March 16 confirm that while public health and safety was maintained during and after the event, and doses to reactor facility staff were well below regulatory limits, a safety limit was violated when the temperature of the fuel cladding of a single fuel element in the 20-MWt research reactor reached a temperature high enough to partially melt the element.

Deep Isolation to study borehole disposal in Slovenia

August 31, 2021, 6:59AMRadwaste Solutions
The TRIGA II research reactor at Slovenia’s Josef Stefan Institute. (Photo: Josef Stefan Institute)

The Berkeley, Calif.-based startup Deep Isolation has contracted with Slovenia’s radioactive waste management organization ARAO to conduct a feasibility study on the use of deep boreholes to dispose of the country’s spent research reactor fuel.

U of Illinois plans to integrate research and power with advanced microreactor

June 30, 2021, 12:18PMNuclear News
A rendering of Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation’s micro modular reactor as proposed for construction on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus. (Graphic: USNC)

The U.S. state with more nuclear power plants than any other—Illinois—has no operating university research reactors. A team at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) intends to reverse that situation and construct a high-temperature gas-cooled microreactor. If the team's plans go ahead, the first new U.S. university research reactor deployment in about 30 years could also support commercial advanced reactor deployment.

ATRC Upgrade

October 16, 2020, 2:18PMNuclear NewsJoseph Campbell

Reactor operators Craig Winder (foreground) and Clint Weigel prepare to start up the ATRC Facility reactor at Idaho National Laboratory after a nearly two-year project to digitally upgrade many of the reactor’s key instrumentation and control systems. Photos: DOE/INL

At first glance, the Advanced Test Reactor Critical (ATRC) Facility has very little in common with a full-size 800- or 1,000-MW nuclear power reactor. The similarities are there, however, as are the lessons to be learned from efforts to modernize the instrumentation and control systems that make them valuable assets, far beyond what their designers had envisioned.

One of four research and test reactors at Idaho National Laboratory, the ATRC is a low-power critical facility that directly supports the operations of INL’s 250-MW Advanced Test Reactor (ATR). Located in the same building, the ATR and the ATRC share the canal used for storing fuel and experiment assemblies between operating cycles.

The ongoing effort to convert the world’s research reactors

July 10, 2020, 2:17PMNuclear NewsChristina Nunez

The Ghana Research Reactor-1, located in Accra, Ghana, was converted from HEU fuel to LEU in 2017. Photo: Argonne National Laboratory

In late 2018, Nigeria’s sole operating nuclear research reactor, NIRR-1, switched to a safer uranium fuel. Coming just 18 months on the heels of a celebrated conversion in Ghana, the NIRR-1 reboot passed without much fanfare. However, the switch marked an important global milestone: NIRR-1 was the last of Africa’s 11 operating research reactors to run on high-enriched uranium fuel.

The 40-year effort to make research reactors safer and more secure by replacing HEU fuel with low-enriched uranium is marked by a succession of quiet but immeasurably significant milestones like these. Before Africa, a team of engineers from many organizations, including the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, concluded its conversion work in South America and Australia. Worldwide, 71 reactors in nearly 40 countries have undergone conversions to LEU, defined as less than 20 percent uranium-235. Another 31 research reactors have been permanently shut down.

IAEA project on research reactor spent fuel management options

March 1, 2020, 10:35PMRadwaste SolutionsFrances M. Marshall

International Atomic Energy Agency member states operating or having previously operated a research reactor are responsible for the safe and sustainable management of associated radioactive waste, including research reactor spent nuclear fuel (RRSNF). Management includes storage and ultimate disposal of RRSNF, or the corresponding equivalent waste generated and returned following reprocessing of the spent fuel. Currently, there are 259 research reactors operating, planned, or under construction around the world [1]. An additional 147 research reactors are in extended or permanent shutdown, or under decommissioning.

One key challenge to developing general recommendations for RRSNF management options lies in the diversity of spent fuel types, locations, and national or regional circumstances, rather than mass or volume alone, particularly since typical RRSNF inventories are relatively small. Currently, many countries lack an effective long-term strategy for managing RRSNF. Many research reactor organizations know they have responsibility for the spent fuel, however, they do not know how to decide among multiple options for its management. A methodical review and compilation of technology options for RRSNF management is needed.