Office of Environmental Management

Idaho Site Completes Third Fuel Shipment to Research Reactors in 2018

November 20, 2018

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A crew readies a transport cask for the shipment of Training, Research, Isotopes, General Atomics fuel.
A crew readies a transport cask for the shipment of Training, Research, Isotopes, General Atomics fuel.

IDAHO FALLS, IdahoEM and cleanup contractor Fluor Idaho recently completed the third and final shipment of lightly irradiated fuel elements from the DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory Site this year, supplying material needed to power a research reactor.

   Crews sent the fuel in a cask certified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to the University of Texas (UT) in Austin — the second fuel shipment to UT this year. A third shipment earlier this year had gone to a research reactor at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in Denver.

   With an additional 39 fuel elements, UT has sufficient fuel elements onsite to continue operations for approximately the next 10 years.

   UT and USGS had expressed a need for additional fuel elements for their reactors. Fluor Idaho personnel identified fuel elements in storage at the Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center that were usable in the UT and USGS reactors, and coordinated the effort with NRC.

   “I’m pleased we were able to identify the existence of lightly irradiated uranium fuel within our inventory and provide it to both the University of Texas and USGS for their very important work,” Fluor Idaho Nuclear Project Engineer Alan Robb said.

   The fuel elements are for Training, Research, Isotopes, General Atomics (TRIGA) reactors, which were designed in part by nuclear physicist Edward Teller and mathematician and physicist Freeman Dyson. They are pool-type reactors, which don’t require the kind of containment needed for large commercial nuclear power plants. Several TRIGA reactors are still operated by U.S. universities, government entities, and private companies.

   The TRIGA reactor at UT’s Nuclear Engineering Teaching Laboratory reached initial criticality in 1992 with a licensed power limit of 1.1 megawatt. The facility supports education, research, and other work through elemental analysis, neutron research, and isotope production. In a typical year, the laboratory analyzes 1,000 to 2,000 samples and completes two dozen isotope shipments for other organizations. The UT nuclear program includes hands-on courses using the reactor, and has granted 69 doctoral and 122 master’s degrees since 1997.

   The USGS’s 1-megawatt TRIGA reactor has irradiated nearly half a million rock, mineral, plant, and animal specimen samples to determine their elemental compositions since the reactor first went online in 1969.

   Last year, EM, Fluor Idaho, and DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy worked together to provide TRIGA fuel elements for a University of Maryland research reactor.


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