WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Yukiya Amano celebrated the designation of the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and Idaho National Laboratory (INL) as an International Centre based on Research Reactors (ICERR).
The IAEA designation makes the United States one of four countries identified for unique capabilities and excellence in nuclear research, joining France, Russia, and Belgium. The world-class facilities at ORNL and INL support scientific discovery, medical and industrial isotope applications, and the advancement of nuclear fission, fusion energy, and global security technologies.
The ICERR recognition encourages designees to collaborate in ways that maximize the use of research reactors in all IAEA member states.
“I am incredibly proud to accept this prestigious designation on behalf of the United States, the Department of Energy, and our National lab system,” said Secretary Perry. “This is a tremendous honor recognizing the critical work being conducted at DOE’s Oak Ridge and Idaho national laboratories, and it highlights the importance of our nuclear research facilities and the scientific and nuclear security contributions they bring to the world.”
ORNL’s High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR) and associated nuclear facilities for post-irradiation testing of materials and processing of radioisotopes provide unique capabilities only available through DOE.
Operating at 85 megawatts, HFIR is the highest flux reactor-based source of neutrons in the United States, and it provides one of the highest steady-state neutron fluxes in the world. Every year, more than 500 researchers use its thermal and cold neutrons to perform neutron scattering experiments, in the study of physics, chemistry, materials, engineering, biology and nuclear forensics. Recent research results are helping to develop better drugs for diseases such as HIV, improving the efficiency and durability of 3D-printed rocket parts, and improving the safety and efficiency of batteries in cell phones and cars. HFIR, coupled with ORNL’s hot cell and other nuclear facilities, enables a diverse range of nuclear science and technology research, from examining materials for next-generation reactors to developing new types of nuclear fuel.
ORNL is a global leader for the production of many important isotopes, including plutonium-238, which fuels NASA’s deep space exploration efforts; californium-252, which is used for real-time sulfur analysis in the power industry; nickel-63, which is used in explosive detectors at airports; radium-223, which aids palliative treatment for metastatic cancer; and berkelium-249, which recently enabled the discovery of tennessine, element 117.
INL’s Advanced Test Reactor (ATR), Transient Reactor Experiment and Test (TREAT) reactor, nuclear fuel fabrication facilities, and nuclear facilities for post-irradiation examination (PIE) of nuclear fuels and materials provide unmatched capabilities all in one geographic location.
The ATR can operate at up to 250 megawatts and also provides a steady-state neutron flux for numerous researchers all at the same time. There are 77 test locations within the core and beryllium reflector of the reactor, including six locations that replicate physical conditions – temperature, pressure, chemistry and flow [SO1] – of various power plants. Nine of the 77 locations are referred to as “flux traps” due to their positions near the fuel, and experiments can be from one-half inch to five inches in diameter and up to four feet long. ATR simultaneously provides irradiation of nuclear fuels, materials and isotopes for the U.S. Navy, DOE research programs, industry, universities and international customers.
In addition to the steady-state capabilities of ATR, the TREAT reactor will soon provide researchers the ability to test current and new nuclear fuel designs in off-normal reactor conditions. The TREAT will provide very brief, very intense power surges, replicating severe accident conditions. In less than one second, fuels can be exposed to up to 18,000 megawatts thermal energy.
INL has the capability to fabricate nuclear fuel or materials specimens, irradiate them in steady-state or transient conditions, and perform PIE on the experiments in the largest inert hot cell in the United States. Capabilities are being brought online to provide unprecedented examinations of irradiated materials, providing researchers across the nation and around the world even greater understanding of the processes in nuclear reactions, fuels, and materials.
INL is the nation’s lead-laboratory for nuclear research as well as leading DOE’s Nuclear Science User Facility, providing access to nuclear research capabilities at national laboratories, universities, and industry facilities.