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INL User Facility welcomes three new experiments

March 17, 2010 - 12:27pm

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Idaho Falls — The number of universities conducting nuclear energy experiments in Idaho National Laboratory's one-of-a-kind research reactor has now reached an even dozen.

Three universities have been chosen to begin the next round of experiments at INL's Advanced Test Reactor National Scientific User Facility (ATR NSUF). The ATR NSUF grants free access so university-led research teams can use the ATR and other resources at INL and affiliated partner institutions.

The three projects were chosen from 11 proposals that were submitted during the most recent solicitation for the user facility. The University of California, Berkeley; University of Nevada, Las Vegas; and Idaho State University will work with INL scientists to design the experiments prior to placement in the ATR.

The three new experiments include two capsules and a modeling project. One project will test a new type of nuclear fuel to determine its suitability for use in commercial power reactors. Another will acquire precise measurements of rare isotopes that build up in fuel during the fission process. The third project will develop a radiation transport model of ATR-Critical — a low-power, pool version of the ATR core, which is used for simulations and testing.

Since the user facility's inception, 15 total experiments have been awarded.

In 2007, the U.S. Department of Energy named the Advanced Test Reactor a National Scientific User Facility for basic and applied nuclear research. Under this designation, the ATR NSUF partners with academia and industry to pursue the best ideas for nuclear research. The user facility consists of INL's ATR, ATR-C and Hot Fuel Examination Facility, as well as laboratories and reactors at six affiliated partner institutions.

Todd Allen, scientific director for the user facility, says the arrangement to share research capabilities is valuable to both INL and academia.

"The ATR NSUF continues to offer researchers from around the country access to unique national assets to conduct cutting-edge nuclear technology development research projects," Allen said. "These new projects were selected through a peer-review process that ensures we dedicate time in ATR and ATR-C to the best possible research proposed by teams led by U.S. universities. We continue to be excited by the excellent research proposals that we receive."

The new awards bring two new universities into the user facility program, increasing the total number of universities to 12. The others performing experiments are: Colorado School of Mines; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; North Carolina State University; University of California, Santa Barbara (two projects); University of Florida; University of Illinois; University of Wisconsin-Madison (two projects); Utah State University; Idaho State University; and Drexel University in Philadelphia.

"The ATR-C benchmark modeling project will provide our nuclear engineering students a unique opportunity to become familiar with working at a major nuclear energy, science and technology laboratory, to benefit from working closely with engineers and other students there, and to gain experience with a nuclear reactor facility, which we don't have at UNLV," said Denis Beller, a UNLV research professor. "In addition, designing and conducting experiments to validate the criticality benchmark model of the ATR-C will add to UNLV's expanding research and education program in support of the nation's Nuclear Criticality Safety Program."

The user facility holds a rolling solicitation with two closing dates every year. The next closing date is April 15, with the following one in October 2010.

INL is one of the DOE's 10 multiprogram national laboratories. The laboratory performs work in each of DOE’s strategic goal areas: energy, national security, science and environment. INL is the nation's leading center for nuclear energy research and development. Day-to-day management and operation of the laboratory are the responsibility of Battelle Energy Alliance.

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