Revamped, renewed, restarted -- Oak Ridge High Flux Isotope reactor back on line

May 17, 2007

The research reactor at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory is back in action and better than ever.

After $70 million in renovations and more than a year of meticulous system checks, ORNL’s High Flux Isotope Reactor was restarted this week, taken to 10 percent power, and reached its peak power of 85 megawatts Wednesday.

"The restart has gone well," said Kelly Beierschmitt, HFIR executive director. "This reactor’s design is rigorous and robust. Its performance has been stellar from both an operational and a safety perspective.

"We still have work to do, but we are extremely pleased with our progress so far."

Built in 1966, HFIR is internationally known as a neutron source for materials studies and isotope production. The reactor returns with a suite of new experiment instruments, beam lines to channel neutrons, a new beryllium reflector, and other upgrades.

In October, powerful refrigeration systems were added to cool the reactor’s neutron beams to minus 425 degrees Fahrenheit. The intense cold slows the neutrons and lengthens their wavelength, allowing scientists to study "soft" materials such as proteins and polymers and to analyze materials with certain magnetic properties.

The restart marks HFIR’s 408th cycle. Each cycle represents about 25 days, the time it takes for the reactor to use up its uranium fuel.

Greg Smith, who leads ORNL’s Low Q Neutron Scattering Group, said 49 science experiments are scheduled for this summer, including:

-- Experiments to create new materials with beneficial properties, based on polymer nano-composites, which are "hard" nanoparticles surrounded by a "soft" polymer matrix.

-- Studies to make crystals from membrane proteins, which determine interaction and communication between living cells, to better understand the membrane proteins’ structure and function.

-- Examination of how high-pressure carbon dioxide is absorbed by and migrates through different types of coal to help develop new, more efficient ways to sequester CO2 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"We anticipate eventually providing neutron beams for eight to ten reactor cycles per year and no major shutdown for a beryllium reflector replacement until after 2020," Smith said. "In the meantime, HFIR users will soon be able to access thermal and cold neutron beams of world-class brightness."

Neutrons are vital to research in physics, chemistry, engineering and other materials-related fields. At room temperature, they are ideal for use in special instruments to illuminate the atomic structure and dynamics of hard, dense materials.

HFIR’s cold source will complement the capabilities of ORNL’s recently completed Spallation Neutron Source, the world’s premier neutron science facility.

While SNS also has cold-neutron capabilities, the continuous neutron flow from a reactor such as HFIR, as opposed to pulsed beams from accelerators like SNS, offers advantages for certain types of neutron experiments.

The new cold neutron source is part of an Office of Science-funded renovation that represents a major new direction for the reactor and revitalizes its role to the nation’s science and research community.

The fully instrumented HFIR will include 15 state-of-the-art neutron-scattering instruments, seven designed exclusively for cold neutron experiments; new computer control systems; and a new guide hall facility. Particularly prominent in the guide hall are the two new small-angle neutron scattering instruments, each terminating in a 70-foot long evacuated cylinder containing a large moveable neutron detector.

The reactor also produces radioisotopes used in nuclear medicine. HFIR is the only domestic source of californium-252, an isotope used in industrial analysis. These nuclear materials are processed and refined at the nearby Radiochemical Development and Engineering Center.

Source: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Explore further: Direct visualization of magnetoelectric domains

Related Stories

Sentinel-2A arrives in French Guiana for 12 June launch

26 minutes ago

The latest satellite for the European Commission's environmental Copernicus programme has arrived safe and sound in French Guiana for launch on 12 June. Carrying a multispectral imager, Sentinel-2A is set ...

A novel pathway producing dimethylsulphide in bacteria

27 minutes ago

A scientific team that includes researchers from the University of Barcelona (UB) has identified a novel pathway producing dimethylsulphide, a volatile organosulfur compound which plays a major role in climate regulation.

Direct visualization of magnetoelectric domains

28 minutes ago

A novel microscopy technique called magnetoelectric force microscopy (MeFM) was developed to detect the local cross-coupling between magnetic and electric dipoles. Combined experimental observation and theoretical ...

Avoid 'crape murder' with limited pruning

32 minutes ago

Efforts to prevent people from committing "crape murder" are reducing the number of unsightly, knobby-knuckled branch ends but may leave people wondering how to correctly shape crape myrtles.

Secret life of penguins revealed

33 minutes ago

To mark World Penguin Day (25 April 2015) citizen science project Penguin Watch will release 500,000 new images of penguins and reveal secrets from a year of spying on penguins. ...

Recommended for you

Thinner capsules yield faster implosions

10 hours ago

In National Ignition Facility (NIF) inertial confinement fusion (ICF) experiments, the fusion fuel implodes at a high speed in reaction to the rapid ablation, or blow-off, of the outer layers of the target ...

Direct visualization of magnetoelectric domains

12 hours ago

A novel microscopy technique called magnetoelectric force microscopy (MeFM) was developed to detect the local cross-coupling between magnetic and electric dipoles. Combined experimental observation and theoretical ...

Upside down and inside out

14 hours ago

Researchers have captured the first 3D video of a living algal embryo turning itself inside out, from a sphere to a mushroom shape and back again. The results could help unravel the mechanical processes at ...

Heat makes electrons spin in magnetic superconductors

Apr 24, 2015

Physicists have shown how heat can be exploited for controlling magnetic properties of matter. The finding helps in the development of more efficient mass memories. The result was published yesterday in Physical Review Le ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.