A third neutron source at ORNL could cost $1.5B

SNSaerialOak Ridge National Laboratory is known internationally as a place to do neutron-based science experiments, with two of the top neutron sources in the world — the Spallation Neutron Source, pictured left, and the High Flux Isotope Reactor.

Those two facilities make Oak Ridge a major destination for scientists from around the globe, and if Congress approves construction of a Second Target Station at SNS — with an estimated cost range of $1 billion to $1.5 billion — that reputation will only grow bigger.

In recent interviews, ORNL Director Thom Mason said the lab views a Second Target Station as a new neutron source, because it will provide distinctly different experimental capabilities from the current Target Station at SNS and the Cold Source-enhanced research capabilities at the High Flux Isotope Reactor.

Some lab folks and others have expressed concern that a Second Target Station at SNS might shorten the future of HFIR. But Mason indicated that the lab wants to have all three, offering broad and unprecedented capabilites.

hfirnew.jpg“With that combination, there is really no measurement that we’ve been been able to identify with all this work that we couldn’t field the best instruments in the world,” the ORNL director said.

And having all three of the neutron sources at ORNL makes it easier for users, to some extent, and also creates some efficiency by managing the experiments and available time through a single user program, he said.

“What we’ve said is by 2025 we want to be operating the three neutron facilities,” Mason said.

There is no question about the need for a Second Target Station, according to Mason, who noted that the Department of Energy approved mission need — known as Critical Decision Zero — a couple of years ago.

When the DOE’s Office of Science went through prioritization exercises, with its advisory committees, the Second Target Station at SNS was rated as “absolutely central” to scientific needs — along with an upgrade of the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory, Mason said.

There was some advice from the consulting committees, and  Mason said the lab has spent time since then to do its due diligence on specifications for a new facility at the Spallation Neutron Source. “We’ve kind of answered the mail . . . So now we have a good understanding of the technical performance,” he said.

At this time, ORNL is ready to proceed with a conceptual design report, which would be the basis for Critical Decision No. 1.

“In terms of planning for the facility, we’re ready to go,” Mason said. “At this point, it’s a question of funding.”

That’s where budget uncertainties in Washington, D.C., could play a factor, and it may be only speculation at this point on when a Second Target Station might get funding as a line-item project preparing for construction. At this stage, FY 2017 is apparently a target.

ORNL is hosting a workshop on the Second Target Station and neutron user meeting this week.

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