11-Month Test Reactor Overhaul Is Finished

The Idaho National Laboratory said Monday that one of the country’s “centerpiece” research reactor, the Advanced Test Reactor, was ready for a restart after an 11-month core overhaul.

Test reactor at Idaho National LaboratoryThe core overhaul is a project undertaken approximately once a decade. The national lab said the project was “akin to rebuilding the engine of a high-performance car.”

The facility’s ATR is the world’s largest, most powerful “and flexible” test reactor, according to the INL.

The reactor that operates at temperatures lower than commercial reactors, provides a range of vital missions for the U.S. Navy and the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy. It is also a key infrastructure component to university research and materials testing for industry development. The reason for this is simple: Commercial reactors are designed specifically to create heat for power generation. In contrast, the ATR’s principal function is to produce neutrons, which it does at very high levels.

Exposing fuel and other materials to high levels of neutrons tells researchers how those items will react to high-radiation environments.

Consequently, the core components of the test reactor would also be subjected high neutron levels. As such, it was designed so that the components could be replaced periodically called the “Core Internals Changeout.” This test reactor has undergone six such changeouts since its first startup in 1967.

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