Category Archives: HFIR

Saddleworn reporter heading out of Dodge

As I finished up a recent Chinese dinner of chicken with black bean sauce, I cracked open my fortune cookie and glanced at the message inside.

“All things have an end,” it said, fittingly enough as I get ready for retirement at the end of the month.munger1

For the past 35 years, maybe a little more, I’ve covered the Department of Energy and its Oak Ridge operations. It’s a news beat I created at the News Sentinel after serving as state editor and realizing the wealth of news potential at the government facilities.

It’s been a pleasantly bumpy ride these many years, with a lot of highlights and some unusual happenings. I’m kind of proud of some of the things accomplished. Continue reading

Future of ORNL’s reactor is complicated

hfirornlThe High Flux Isotope Reactor has operated since the 1960s at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and it’s considered one of ORNL’s most valuable assets, with plans to keep it running for decades to come.

There are discussions, however, about a billion-dollar replacement reactor to prepare for future needs. A steady stream of neutrons for production of radioisotopes and experiments with materials is considered an essential part of the lab’s missions.

ORNL hosted a workshop last spring to gather input on the needs and requirements for future research reactors at Oak Ridge and elsewhere around the globe. The lab recently released a report that included feedback from the workshop and recommendations.

The topic is not just about research needs at ORNL. Continue reading

ORNL’s Mason talks about the FY 2017 budget request

mason-thumb-300x313-13696.jpgA big emphasis in Department of Energy’s proposed FY 2017 budget is the so-called Mission Innovation, which is an agreement between the United States and 19 other countries to double research on clean energy over the next five years.

If this multibillion-dollar initiative moves forward — and meets with the approval of Congress — Oak Ridge National Laboratory could be a beneficiary of added funding for research programs that are already an Oak Ridge strength.

ORNL Director Thom Mason expressed enthusiasm for the programs but also noted there is obvious uncertainty about whether an administration priority will become a priority with Congress and survive some budget constraints already in place.

“This starts the process and what wins out could be different,” Mason said. Continue reading

Oak Ridge reactor (when it was new)

24170186406_cf0073efc6_kThe High Flux Isotope Reactor, as it looked on Sept. 4, 1967, about a year after it attained full power — 100 megawatts at the time — at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The research reactor’s power level was scaled back to 85 megawatts following concerns in the late 1980s about embrittlement of the pressure vessel. (Department of Energy archives/Frank Hoffman photo)

ORNL achieves milestone in producing plutonium-238 for space missions


An Oak Ridge National Laboratory employee uses a remote-manipulator to move a vial of plutonium-238 oxide inside a shielded hot cell at ORNL’s Radiochemical Engineering Development Center. (ORNL photo/Jason Richards)

Oak Ridge National Laboratory announced Tuesday it had achieved production of 50 grams of plutonium-238. That’s roughly the mass of a golf ball, according to the Department of Energy, but it’s considered an important milestone in re-establishing a U.S. stockpile of Pu-238 for use as a power source on deep-space missions.

ORNL has been developing the capability over the past couple of years with funding that NASA provided via the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy. The lab uses the High Flux Isotope Reactor for production of the plutonium isotope and then processes and purifies the radioactive material in a series of shielded hot cells. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Restart underway at SNS; neutrons available by Friday

The Spallation Neutron Source is undergoing a phased startup following a lengthy summer maintenance period, which began June 28 after a series of events — good and bad.

“We’re raising power and checking out neutron instruments before production begins for users,” Oak Ridge National Laboratory spokesman David Keim said this afternoon via email. Continue reading

A glowing event at ORNL

19348279183_03056eb4ac_kWorkers remove a fuel element from the High Flux Isotope Reactor during the defueling and refueling activities earlier this month at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory facility. The lab released a series of remarkable photos taken at HFIR during the event. The fuel cycle at the research reactor is about 26 days, depending on how the reactor is loaded for experiments. The blue glow is due to Cherenkov radiation as electrons move through the water faster than the speed of light. (ORNL photos by Jason Richards, above, and Genevieve Martin, below)


HFIR restarts following unplanned shutdown

hfiroutside-thumb-300x204-26744.jpgOperators at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s High Flux Isotope Reactor manually shut down the 85-megawatt research reactor last Wednesday after a large 36-inch valve “closed a bit too much.”

According to Tim Powers, ORNL’s research reactors chief, the incident occurred while new operators were undergoing training last week. He said the shift supervisor made the “conservative decision” to shut down the reactor. It was the second unplanned shutdown at the reactor in the past month. Continue reading

HFIR ready for neutron school

hfirornlThe High Flux Isotope Reactor has resumed normal operations following last weekend’s disruption and should be ready for dozens of students who will use the facility next week as part the annual National School on Neutron and X-ray Scattering.

Paul Langan, Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s associate lab director for neutron sciences, said about 60 graduate students from around the United States are participating in the two-week school, where they get firsthand experience at research facilities at ORNL and Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago. Continue reading

ORNL reactor recovers from unplanned weekend shutdown; part replaced in auxiliary control room

hfirA view of the High Flux Isotope Reactor’s core at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. (ORNL photo/Jason Richards)

Workers manually shut down Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s High Flux isotope Reactor over the weekend after the reactor’s control system generated a signal for an automatic reduction in power. A faulty part was identified and replaced by workers, and the 85-megawatt research reactor reportedly returned to full power late Monday afternoon.

According to information provided by Paul Langan, ORNL’s associate lab director for neutron sciences, the reactor and associated systems were placed in a “safe shutdown condition” around noon Saturday, using normal operating procedures. Continue reading