Breazeale Reactor to receive $1.36 million upgrade

Curtis Chan
December 11, 2013

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State's Breazeale Nuclear Reactor was recently awarded a $1.36 million Department of Energy (DOE) grant to upgrade the facility to realize its fullest capabilities.

Kenan Ünlü, director of the Radiation Science and Engineering Center (RSEC), professor of nuclear engineering and the grant's principal investigator, explained, "When this reactor was built in 1955, it was built with 100 kilowatts of power. Then in 1965, the reactor power changed to one megawatt."

The enhancement in reactor power and change in fuel type from materials testing reactor (MTR) to Training, Research, Isotopes, General Atomic (TRIGA) left only one of the seven existing beam ports aligned with the centerline of the reactor core.

Ünlü said the MTR-TRIGA change limited utilization of the center's neutron beam capabilities. "Only two out of the seven beams ports were being used."

The upgrade, funded by the DOE's Nuclear Engineering University Program, will correct the inherent beam port alignment issues for optimal neutron output at experimental positions.

As part of the work, changes will be made to the core-moderator assembly, reactor core upper and lower grid plates, safety plates, reactor tower structure and neutron beam ports.

"Through careful planning and parallel scheduling of work, we estimate that total reactor down time will be less than three months," Ünlü said. "Assuming that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approval is received within one year, the entire project will be completed within two years.”

Ünlü said the enhancements will establish the RSEC as a state-of-the-art neutron beam facility capable of supporting existing and future nuclear energy-related teaching, research and development.

"Our new upgraded and improved facility will offer unparalleled research opportunities for Penn State faculty and graduate students in multiple disciplines while providing an excellent test bed for the development of instruments and experiments for researchers at Penn State, as well as other regional and national university researchers, industry and national laboratories."

Ünlü said he envisions the RSEC's new neutron beam capabilities being used for conducting cutting-edge research, including depth-versus-concentration measurements; measuring impurities in semiconductors, metals and alloys; materials characterization; and determining impurities in historically or technologically important materials.

He added that the Penn State center could be used as a small-scale test bed to develop new experiments and technique before being deployed at larger-scale facilities such as national laboratories.

Under Ünlü's leadership the RSEC has received approximately $9 million from University, federal and industry sources for physical improvements since 2008.

The Breazeale Nuclear Reactor is the country's longest continuously operating university research reactor and the only one in Pennsylvania. It is named in honor of William Breazeale, a physicist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory who oversaw the reactor's construction and became Penn State's first professor of nuclear engineering.

  • Kenan Unlu at reactor

    Under Kenan Ünlü’s leadership, Penn State’s Radiation Science and Engineering Center has received approximately $9 million in upgrades since 2008, including a recent $1.36 million Department of Energy grant.

    IMAGE: Kenan Unlu

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Last Updated December 20, 2013