News and Notes

A Newsletter for Faculty and Staff of Idaho State University

March 29, 2010 — Vol. 26 No. 13

ISU selected to conduct second experiment at INL Advanced Test Reactor

George Imel

The Idaho State University Department of Nuclear Engineering has been selected to conduct a second nuclear energy experiment in the Idaho National Laboratory’s Advanced Test Reactor National Scientific User Facility.

Idaho State University is one of only three universities in the nation to have been selected to do two experiments at the ATR facility in a nationally competitive research program. 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 and they’re completing 15 total experiments.

ISU’s principal investigator for both projects is George Imel, ISU chair of nuclear engineering. This year, Idaho State University was selected to complete an experiment titled “Measurement of Actinide Cross Sections.” This project could receive up to $225,000 funding over the next three years. In September 2009, ISU’s “Real Time ATR-C Flux Sensors” experiment was funded for $225,000 for a three-year period.

“We are part of small group in the country that has been awarded two experiments at the INL’s Advanced Test Reactor facility,” Imel said. “This has helped ISU’s nuclear engineering department’s reputation.”

The latest Idaho State University ATR project is a joint venture between ISU, the INL and Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago. The goal of this experiment is to develop new monitoring conditions during radiation testing to measure extremely small quantities of fission products. The results will be used to validate computer models that predict larger-scale nuclear waste treatment inside of reactors.

For the project awarded last fall, ISU researchers including Imel and physicist Jason Harris will work with collaborators from INL and France’s Commissariat a l’Energie Atomique to evaluate neutron detectors and other instruments that monitor nuclear reactor cores. These experiments will be conducted in the INL’s Advance Test Reactor Critical, a low-powered mockup of the ATR.

Other universities that have been selected to conduct experiments at the INL ATR include the University of California, Berkeley, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Colorado School of Mines, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, North Carolina State University, the University of California-Santa Barbara (two projects), the University of Florida, the University of Illinois, the University of Wisconsin-Madison (two projects) and Utah State University.

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 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.