Meeting at Ohio State

We had another excellent meeting of our “Ohio thorium” group again at Ohio State University on Tuesday, August 8th, 2006.

Early that morning, Ray Beach, Al Juhasz, and I drove from Cleveland to Columbus. Chuck Alexander and Eugenio Villeseca from Cleveland State were on the road doing the same thing.

We arrived at OSU and met in the reactor building which was fairly close to campus. I had never been that close to an actual operating nuclear reactor before, which was very exciting. We were greeted by Dr. Tom Blue of OSU and some of his colleagues, including Dr. Tunc Aldemir, Dr. Richard Denning, and Dr. Richard Christensen. Several of Dr. Blue’s students joined us as well.

Ray Beach first discussed possible funding opportunities that may open up through NASA’s JANUS program, and there was great interest among all the participants in how to configure the research plan to support this goal.

I then spoke on thorium and thorium energy cycles in general, and then specifically on the liquid-fluoride reactor as an optimal thorium burner. One of the slides that I showed that caught the interest of the group showed the layout of the old MSRE reactor building. They saw how the reactor vessel drained into several “drain” tanks, and I told them stories that I had heard from ORNL personnel how they would drain the reactor on a Friday and then come in on a Monday, thaw it out, and start it up again. Such a capability would probably be particularly attractive in a university research reactor considering their limited budgets and personnel.

Dr. Greg Washington then joined us and Dr. Blue asked that we briefly rehearse our earlier talks, which we tried to do. Dr. Washington asked a number of good questions and seemed particularly interested in the possibility of building a small LFR as a research reactor at OSU.

We then took a tour of the OSU reactor. It is a pool-type reactor built in a large concrete vessel. The concrete is several feet thick at the base and is penetrated by a number of “beam ports” to enable experiments to be exposed to the internals of the reactor. Ascending a staircase, we were able to look down into the reactor from the top of the pool. The active core itself didn’t look to be much bigger than an egg crate. There were several control rod drives that penetrated the active core and reached up all the way to the top of the pool. The reactor was shut down at the time and the operators there explained how they would maneuver sampling systems over to areas near the core for testing. We also got to see pictures of the Cerenkov glow of the reactor when it is in operation.

After leaving the top of the pool, we were shown the small control room where the reactor was operated. I was very impressed with the built-in sequencing of the reactor operations, and how an inadvertent operation would trigger a scram and shutdown. I had thought how beneficial it would be to students to gain experience starting and operating an actual reactor.

After lunch, we heard talks from Dr. Al Juhasz on power conversion systems and we also heard from several of the OSU faculty on their current research.

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