Category Archives: Spallation Neutron Source

SNS has strong run leading up to summer maintenance outage

sns1Aerial 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

Alexander, ORNL and heavy water

alexandersummitAn 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

10th anniversary of beam on target at SNS


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

Who’ll buy heavy water?

ornlsign1Oak Ridge National Laboratory manages the Department of Energy’s Isotope Business Office and, as such, will be storing and selling some of the 32 tons of heavy water acquired in a deal with Iran.

Once it arrives and goes up for sale, who’ll be approved for purchases of the material, which has multiple uses (including development of parts for nuclear weapons and certain kinds of reactors that produce plutonium)? Continue reading

SNS outage in 2017 will be extra long

In order to introduce heavy water into the target cooling system, workers at the Spallation Neutron Source will load the cooling loops next year during the planned replacement of the “inner reflector plug.” That’s a big job, especially because the plug is in an extremely radioactive area near the mercury target, and so the work will have to done remotely.snsnight-thumb-400x272-19021.jpg

This will be the first time that the plug has been replaced since SNS began operations in 2006. In the future, it’ll probably be replaced about every five years, according to Kevin Jones, the SNS operations manager.

Because of the difficulty of the endeavor, Oak Ridge National Laboratory workers are already practicing the removal of the hot plug and installing a new one, Jones said.

The new inner reflector plug is scheduled to arrive in September or October. The SNS typically has two big maintenance outage, one around Christmas and the other in the summer. Continue reading

ORNL benefits from Iran deal; heavy water will enhance operations at Spallation Neutron Source

SNS Building MarkerOak 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.sns1

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

SNS ready to go; research resumes tonight

snscontrolFollowing 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

More up-and-down operations at SNS; restart expected later this week after target change

SNS Building MarkerThe Spallation Neutron Source, one of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s top research facilities, is expected to resume operations later this week after a pause to change a target vessel that failed on March 22.

SNS operations chief Kevin Jones provided an update Tuesday on the situation at SNS, which has experienced an elevator ride of good and bad results over the past year. High-end science is sometimes fragile or so it seems.sns1

According to Jones, the SNS systems had been operating well at high power levels until last Tuesday, when the tech-loaded target vessel reported a “leak condition” — meaning that some of the liquid mercury had breached its containment and entered the “sealed interstitial space” where the sensors are located.

There has been a history of the stainless-steel vessels failing prematurely but that wasn’t necessarily the case in this instance. After all, the SNS had operated under pretty extreme conditions in the most recent run, with a beam power of up to 1.4 megawatts — the maximum — and much longer runs at 1.3 megawatts.

Jones said the SNS ran very well at 1.3 megawatts until the leak was detected. Continue reading

Good news at Spallation Neutron Source


Aerial view of the Spallation Neutron Source at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. (ORNL photo)

The Spallation Neutron Source restarted last week following a month-and-a-half winter maintenance period, and the operations report at the experimental facility seemed to be all positive.

“I’m pretty happy,” SNS Operations Manager Kevin Jones said Tuesday. 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

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

Mason says FY2015 was a pretty good year for ORNL and explains why

10348989614_59eb5cc817_bEarlier this week, I asked Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director Thom Mason about the state of the lab and to reflect on Fiscal Year 2015, which concluded Sept. 30.  I posted some of his thoughts on the current budget situation, and he’s got his fingers crossed there.

As regards the past year at ORNL, Mason cited several highlights:

CORAL: Last November, the next-big-thing in supercomputing was announced in Washington, the Collaboration of Oak Ridge, Argonne and Lawrence Livermore National Labs, setting the stage for ORNL to get a super-duper from IBM/NVIDIA that will succeed the lab’s Cray Titan system that’s the nation’s most power machine for science research and the second fastest computer int he world. “We’re excited about the potential embodied in that announcement,” Mason said. Continue reading

Spallation Neutron Source shut down to replace target vessel, but the news isn’t all bad

SNS Building MarkerThe Spallation Neutron Source is one of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s signature research facilities.

The Spallation Neutron Source is shut down for the next few weeks while workers replace the research facility’s target vessel, which failed on Friday after a record-setting run of success. As many are familiar, the sturdiness of the stainless-steel vessel — which holds the 20 tons of mercury that’s a target hit by a proton beam many times a second to produce neutrons needed for experiments — has been a major issue and interfered with Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s ability to maximize research capabilities at the SNS.

The bad news, of course, is that the target vessel failed, requiring that operations be brought to a halt while the vessel is replaced. That means that a whole bunch of active experiments had to be put on hold, and they will be rescheduled for some point in the future. However, the SNS management team had planned to let the existing vessel operate to failure, so it wasn’t a total surprise. And, in the process, Vessel No. 12 — the twelfth in SNS history — established a few operational records for longevity, etc. Continue reading