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.
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 →
Aerial view of the Spallation Neutron Source atop Chestnut Ridge at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. (ORNL photo)
The Spallation Neutron Source, which resumed operations on March 30 after replacing a target vessel that failed unexpectedly, has been on a strong run since then with “very good” reliability (available 92 percent of the time for researchers), according to a status report from Operations Manager Kevin Jones.
The spring has been a fairly cautious period, with the SNS operating at a beam power of 850 kilowatts following the restart and bumping up to 1 megawatt in early April. The system is capable of 1.4 megawatts but the lower power helped preserve the pressure vessel until more backups become available — and more are on the way.
That strategy apparently was effective, because the SNS is entering its last week of operation before the long summer outage for maintenance. Continue reading →
An amendment to the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Bill for FY 2017 was filed earlier this week by U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., that would prevent the government from using taxpayer money to purchase additional quantities of heavy water from Iran. The amendment has not been adopted at this point, but the discussions about the Obama administration’s dealings with Iran may stall the progress of the appropriations bill. However, it will not, according to multiple accounts, have an impact on the deal that was signed last week for the purchase of 32 tons of heavy water, which will be stored at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Part of that acquired inventory will be used to enhance neutron production at the Spallation Neutron Source in Oak Ridge, and the rest will reportedly be sold to qualified buyers for use in research and industrial applications.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who chairs the Senate Appropriations energy and water subcommittee is a primary architect of the 2017 energy and water bill. Continue reading →
Key members of the Spallation Neutron Source team were all smiles as monitors showed the first signs of neutron production on April 28, 2006. From left to right, John Haines, then-SNS Director Thom Mason, Erik Iverson, Tony Gabriel, Les Price, David Freeman and Ian Anderson. (ORNL photo)
Thursday was the 10th anniversary of the startup of the Spallation Neutron Source at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
At about 1:30 p.m. on April 28, 2006, a powerful proton beam struck the liquid mercury target for the first time, ejecting trillions of neutrons. Continue reading →
Jaime Fernandez-Baca, a research group leader in Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Quantum Condensed Matter Division, has been named a fellow of the Neutron Scattering Society of America.
The society recognized Fernandez-Baca for:
“Important contributions to the study of spin dynamics in magnetic systems notably including amorphous magnets and colossal magnetoresistance materials, for outstanding service to the neutron scattering community in the United States, and for leadership in promoting and supporting excellence in neutron scattering research.” Continue reading →
Oak Ridge National Laboratory last year provided scientific and technical expertise to the team that negotiated the Iranian nuclear agreement in Vienna, and the lab is now reaping benefits from that historic accord.
The Obama administration, according to multiple news reports, is buying 32 tons of heavy water from Iran. Heavy water is a key component in development of nuclear weapons and can be used in certain types of nuclear reactors that produce plutonium, and the deal — estimated at $8.6 million — will reportedly help Iran meet commitments for reducing its stockpile of weapons-making material.
The United States does not currently have a source for producing heavy water, and the deal with Iran will help meet a number of needs.
ORNL has been asked to store the newly acquired supply of heavy water, which is water laden with deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen. The Oak Ridge lab houses the Department of Energy’s Isotope Business Office, and it will sell quantities of heavy water to qualified buyers.
Besides that, the lab will use several tons of the heavy water to bolster capabilities at the Spallation Neutron Source, a world-class research facility that produces neutrons for experiments that explore the structure and behavior of materials. Continue reading →
Following the successful change out of the target vessel, the Spallation Neutron Source is apparently ready to resume production of neutrons on a research-scale Wednesday evening. The SNS team has scurried to get things back in order following the March 22 failure of the previous vessel.
In a message via email Wednesday afternoon, SNS operations chief Kevin Jones said: Continue reading →
The 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.
A 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 →
The 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)
So, in case you’ve ever wondered, Oak Ridge National Laboratory uses a lot of electricity to carry out its missions for the U.S. Department of Energy. The bill annually exceeds $30 million, and there is obvious pressure at a DOE lab to be as energy-efficient as possible.
ORNL spokesman David Keim confirmed that more than half of the lab’s electricity bill can be attributed to power needs for two major operations: the Spallation Neutron Source and the lab’s cadre of high-performance computers, including the nation’s most powerful computer known as Titan (a Cray XK7 system). Continue reading →