Saturday, February 12, 2011

MIT's 5 MWt Research Nuclear Reactor Provides Valuable Service

A stone's throw from busy Massachusetts Avenue here is a large blue cylinder about the height of a two-story building, which houses the reactor, built with an attached research lab in 1958 at the dawn of the nuclear power industry.

The mission of the lab has changed over the years, most recently shifting its primary emphasis from medical research to experiments on new materials and fuels for nuclear power. Its director envisions that the lab's main product--streams of neutrons--could be used to advance microscopic imaging, giving researchers the ability to visualize the structure of proteins or the inside of complex machines. _CNet
Sitting in the middle of Cambridge, Mass., the 5 MWt MIT research reactor has been providing training and research for MIT students for decades. It is also utilised by Idaho National Labs for testing different nuclear fuels and new reactor materials. Such research & training reactors are invaluable to the future of intelligent nuclear power.
In the early days of the 1950s, the research was quite basic: engineers needed to better understand nuclear fission, or splitting atoms, to release heat in a controlled way. The center has since done research in many areas, including semiconductors, and working for utilities seeking better power plant design.

In the 1990s, the lab did quite a bit of work on boron neutron capture therapy, where cancer patients would sit in a room next to one of the beam ports and receive a dose of radiation. Patients would take a treatment that includes boron, which interacts with the neutron beam, releasing enough energy to kill cancer cells.

Fitting in and looking ahead
Now, one of the areas that the lab is focused on is in-core experiments, something that's very specialized and requires specific engineering expertise, according to Lin-wen Hu, the associate director of research development. While some university research nuclear reactors in the U.S. shut down because of lack of funding in the 1990s, there is now more research money available from the Department of Energy, she added.

Working with the Idaho National Laboratory, the research reactor is used to expose different materials and fuels to the radiation of an actual core. Although the MIT research reactor core operates at only 50 degrees Celsius, researchers can insert a loop, or tube, that's about two inches in diameter into the core and control the heat and pressure for experiments, Hu explained.

...MIT has committed to changing by 2015 to a different fuel type now being developed that has a lower concentration of enriched uranium, making it harder to convert to a bomb, said Thomas Newton, the associate director of engineering. It's taking years because the fuel and fuel casing, or cladding, needs to be tested for durability and ability to withstand conditions in the core, he said. _CNet
As you can imagine, Cambridge is packed with lefty-Luddite anti-nuclear extremists, who never met a neutron they did not despise. Such is the prestige of the MIT brand, that the Luddites of Cambridge have been unable to shut down the reactor over the past several decades of leftist upheaval and pseudo-intellectual rioting.

Meanwhile, in South Carolina, local politicians are banding together in suppport of small modular reactors (SMRs), in preparation for April's SMR conference in Columbia, SC.

Given the fat & lazy attitude of US President Obama's Nuclear Regulatory Commission, SMRs will need all the political support they can get, to get past the bureaucratic obstacles and booby-traps placed in their way by a corrupt federal bureaucracy, and a political climate of energy starvation prevalent in the US executive branch currently.

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