Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Idaho Test Reactor Opens to Universities

From the A.P. December 9th

The U.S. Department of Energy is making available to university researchers a nuclear reactor test facility in southeast Idaho so they might learn how to build better nuclear power plants.

The Idaho National Laboratory's Advanced Test Reactor earlier this week issued a call for proposals from universities to conduct irradiation experiments.

Universities won't have to pay to run the experiments, but researchers must publish their findings, said Mitchell Meyer, acting director of the Advanced Test Reactor National Scientific User Facility.

He said the opening of the facility to university researchers comes at a time of renewed interest in nuclear energy that's being driven by increased energy demands and concerns about global warming from the burning of coal and other fossil fuels.

The U.S. currently has 104 commercial nuclear plants that supply about 19 percent of the nation's energy needs, according to the NRC. Coal supplies about 49 percent, the commission said. Meyer said the Advanced Test Reactor can reduce the length of experiments from years to months. He said only three other test reactors in the world can run similar experiments — one in Russia, one in Belgium, and the High Flux Isotope Reactor at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

But he said the ability of the reactor in Idaho to run multiple experiments at the same time sets it apart.

"The Advanced Test Reactor is the most flexible and capable for this type of work in the United States," said Meyer. "It's the most realistic option for doing the type of work that needs to be done."

Opening the reactor to university researchers will advance knowledge about nuclear energy, he predicted.

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