BOICE, Idaho ( Associated Press) – Scientists at Idaho National Laboratory have completed a rare overhaul of one of the world’s most powerful nuclear test reactors and normal operations are expected to resume later this spring, officials said on Monday. said.
An 11-month outage at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Test Reactor, or ATR, in eastern Idaho allowed a core overhaul that, on average, is performed roughly every 10 years. The change was the sixth and the first in 17 years since the reactor began operating in 1967.
“Overall, I am extremely pleased with the ATR workforce and teamwork they demonstrated during the longest and most complex outage in our history,” said Sean O’Kelly, associate lab director for the Advanced Test Reactor Complex at Idaho National Laboratory. “
He said the coronavirus pandemic and supply chain issues caused some delays beyond a best-case scenario of completing the work in nine months.
Use of the reactor helps the US Navy’s nuclear-powered combat fleet last longer at sea, boost NASA’s space exploration and advance life-saving medical treatments. The reactor also plays an important role in the effort to build new and safer reactors to make commercial nuclear power plants last longer and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The latest overhaul was completed last month and the reactor is now undergoing readiness assessments, equipment calibration and low-power system checks. Those assessments are expected to end in May or June.
O’Kelly said, “Operation of the reactor with new core components and new fuel requires nuclear testing to build up a comprehensive set of baseline data, which is something we’ve seen since we completed our last overhaul in 2005.” Haven’t done it.” “We are working to complete the first set of low-power tests by late spring, when we will kick off again to set up the first set of experiments.”
The reactor is configured so that it can run multiple tests at once. Some of the best test slots face a decade-long wait to run experiments, and other slots are booked years in advance.
ATR is unique because unlike commercial nuclear reactors that produce heat that is turned into energy, ATR produces neutrons to test new materials and fuels to see how they react in high radiation environments. The test reactor’s unique Clover design includes a core that is surrounded by beryllium metal to reflect neutrons.
But all those neutrons corrode the internal parts of the test reactor, meaning it would lose its ability to be used if it was not refurbished.
The reactor’s designers foresaw that problem and created a reactor with internal components that could be replaced from time to time.