WSU’s Nuclear Reactor Pool Gets a Makeover – WSU Insider
The tank that holds WSU’s nuclear research reactor will soon be coated with a new flexible epoxy coating without the reactor ever having to leave its watery home.
The university’s nuclear science center has a unique reactor pool: a relatively large rectangular tank with concrete walls about 25 feet deep and filled with 65,000 gallons of water. Near the bottom, the glowing blue reactor core rests in a square box. It hangs from a deck on a track so it can be moved to one side of the pool while work is being carried out on the other, constantly keeping it under several feet of highly demineralised protective water.
Work, which began last week at the Dodgen Research Facility on the Pullman campus, is expected to take about five weeks, but is the result of a much longer process.
“This upgrade was planned months in advance and was designed to incorporate redundant layers of security,” said Center Director Corey Hines.
The new liner is funded in part by a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy and work overseen by WSU safety committees to ensure all federal regulations are followed to ensure safety. The tank liner serves as the primary cooling barrier for the containment of the reactor pool water. It is necessary for the proper functioning of the installation. Master-Lee Energy Services, a contractor who regularly works with commercial and research reactors, is replacing the pool’s current epoxy coating with a flexible, self-healing epoxy. While the current liner remains fully functional, the new liner represents a significant upgrade, Hines said.
“This coating is fundamentally much more robust than what we had before because coating technologies have advanced rapidly over the past 20 years,” he said.
Heavy equipment will be stationed at the facility on the northeast edge of campus, including two 22,000-gallon tanks and a gigantic hydro-laser, which is a type of pressure washer. A portion of the pool water will be moved into these portable tanks and then used to refill the pool once the work is complete.
The new coating is part of a series of improvements that have taken place at the facility which recently celebrated its 60th anniversary last year.
“We’re going through a pretty significant expansion in terms of capabilities for the reactor and for the rest of the facility,” Hines said.
WSU has the only research reactor in Washington State. It is a TRIGA reactor, which stands for Training, Research, Isotopes, General Atomic, which is a class of reactors designed for research and education.
Nationally, it is one of only twelve research reactors that operate at 1 megawatt of power or more, and it boasts some unique characteristics. Due to its relatively large pool size, the reactor can irradiate 15 samples at a time and produce radioisotopes for study and potential use in medicine that cannot be found anywhere else. The center recently added an epithermal neutron beam that can create a columnar neutron beam as small as two inches in diameter to study samples, and because the reactor can move on rails, researchers can bring it directly against this beam.
It is a heavily used research reactor, operating approximately 1500 hours per year, running samples for researchers at WSU, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and Idaho National Laboratory as well as some private enterprise customers, who are authorized to receive these materials.
Outside the reactor, the Center has added new instruments and capabilities through grants, including an X-ray diffractometer that can be used to study the grain and particle size of nanomaterials and a SAXS, a ray scattering instrument X at small angle. , will be added in the near future.
The Center has also expanded the lab space and two WSU professors, Xiofeng Guo and Liane Moreau, who work in the field of chemistry and materials development, are moving in.
While many faculty already rely on the center for radioisotope work, the Nuclear Science Center is always open to other faculty projects, Hines said.
“Our mission is to be here to advance faculty research at WSU,” Hines said. “In fact, the NSC is run as a user facility, so if professors are writing a grant and considering using radioactive material, we can produce it and work with them to advance their research efforts.