Heavy water at the Spallation Neutron Source

snstarget2-thumb-400x266-19690.jpgKevin Jones, operations manager at the Spallation Neutron Source, was pretty excited about the U.S. deal with Iran that will provide a plentiful supply of heavy water for SNS. The use of heavy water in the SNS cooling systems is expected to increase the concentration of neutrons for research by 10 to 20 percent, which is a big deal.

“I think it’s great,” Jones said Monday. “It’s an enormous cost-benefit way to get a big boost in the neutron flux. It’s a cheap solution.”

The SNS team has been looking for a supply of high-quality heavy for years, largely without success because there is no domestic producer of the water laden with deuterium.

Jones said it will take about 9 metric tons of heavy water to fill the cooling system at the target station for the SNS. The change from light water to heavy water will take place when the Inner Reflector Plug at the Spallation Neutron Source is replaced in 2017 (sometime between March and July).

The SNS currently has about 5.5 tons of high-quality heavy water that was acquired a decade ago from the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site. The procurement for SNS from the Iran stockpile was for 6 metric tons, so that will leave — even after filling the system — about 2.5 metric tons to “top off” the system as needed in the next few years.

Another procurement will be needed when the Inner Reflector Plug is replaced again in about five years, Jones said.

In the meantime, the 2.5 tons of heavy water will be available to replace the heavy water from “normal system losses,” he said.

Jones said the heavy water being acquired from Iran is “very high quality,” based on an analysis of samples that was conducted at Savannah River.

“I’m pleased to get it,” he said. “I don’t believe we’ll have any issues with it . . . It generally met our specifications and so we should have no issues.”

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About Frank Munger

Senior Writer Frank Munger covers the Dept. of Energy's Oak Ridge facilities and many related topics — nuclear weapons, nuclear waste and other things nuclear, environmental cleanup and science of all sorts. Atomic City Underground is, first and foremost, a news blog, but there's room for analysis, opinion and random thoughts that have no place else to go.