DOE funds new cooling loop at Nuclear Science Center

A nuclear reactor glows blue at the bottom of a pool of water.
WSU is home to a 1 megawatt TRIGA reactor, designed for research and educational uses. Photo by Bob Hubner, WSU Photo Services

Washington State University’s nuclear reactor pool will be able to keep its cool longer, thanks to a $740,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The funds will pay for an upgraded, secondary cooling loop at the university’s Nuclear Science Center that will allow the 1 megawatt Triga Reactor to operate more often and longer in service of research projects.

The reactor rests about 25 feet deep at the bottom of a pool of 65,000 gallons of water, which helps dissipate the heat it generates when it is running. The current cooling system for the water is more than two decades old, and the new cooling loop will mean less thermal cycling in the reactor pool water. In other words, it will stay at a more consistent, cool temperature as opposed to going through cycles of heating up and cooling off.

“The goal is that when we get the system installed, we’ll be able to start up the reactor to a megawatt and the reactor pool water will hit an equilibrium temperature relatively quickly, and it will be stable for as long as we need to operate the reactor in support of all of our fantastic projects,” said Corey Hines, the Center’s director.

Planning and installation of the cooling loop will take place over the next two years. This latest grant is part of ongoing upgrades and improvements at the WSU Nuclear Science Center. Recent projects include installation of new epoxy lining for the reactor pool and backup reactor power detectors as well as the addition of a new X-Ray beamline instrument at the Center, which is housed at the Dodgen Research Facility on the Pullman campus.

WSU has the only research reactor in the state of Washington, and nationally it is only one of about a dozen research reactors that operates at 1 megawatt of power or higher. 

The Center is constantly working to upgrade the facility to meet the increase in nuclear science research at WSU, Hines said.

“The breadth of projects that the Nuclear Science Center will be participating in is only growing, so we want to make sure that we’re keeping up with the demand of both fundamental and applied research at the university,” he said.

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