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OSU nuclear reactor used for research

The water in the pool was a lighter blue than the chlorine water of a swimming pool. The pool had several rods sticking into it. The core of Ohio State’s nuclear reactor was sitting at the bottom.

OSU’s nuclear reactor is housed in the Reactor Building on 1298 Kinnear Rd. It was built in 1960 and first operated in 1961, according to the nuclear reactor lab’s website.

“This was kind of the era of atoms for peace,” said Andrew Kauffman, associate director of the reactor lab. “Post World War II, where people were looking for peaceful uses for nuclear (power). In that time period a lot of research reactors were built at universities.”

Marion Poole, a physics professor, and graduate students Walt Carey and Dick Bailey started the lab, said Don Miller, a retired OSU professor in nuclear engineering and the director of the lab between 1979 and 1997.

OSU students in the nuclear engineering master’s or doctorate program or the nuclear engineering minor program can use the lab for research. Several other universities around Ohio, such as Cleveland State University and Case Western University, have used the lab. High school groups have also toured the lab.

The reactor is used to expose materials to radiation and detect how the material might degrade or enhance.

The reactor can also be used to see what a material is made of by ways of neutron activation analysis, or NAA.

The water inside the pool is purified through filtering processes so it won’t become radioactive. If regular water is put in the pool, the minerals in the water, such as chlorine, sodium or calcium, can become radioactive when they are exposed to neutrons.

“If you just put tap water in the pool and ran the reactor for the first time, you’d have a radioactive pool,” Kauffman said.

The water in the pool helps keep the reactor cool, moderates the neutrons with its hydrogen and acts as a barrier.

“We have enough water in between the core and where you stand at the pool top that it’s very safe to stand up there when you’re operating the core because it also absorbs radiation to make it safe to be up there,” Kauffman said.

From the control panel in the reactor lab, one licensed operator can control and monitor the reactor and the conditions surrounding the building.

“We monitor power two different ways; we monitor rate of change of power, basically not only how fast we’re going, but how fast we’re accelerating,” said Kevin Herminghuysen, a research associate.

The radioactivity that is emitted into the environment is also monitored. When the reactor is operating, the lab has all of the doors and windows closed, so the air goes out of a small fan near the ceiling. There is a tube connected to the fan and that is then connected to a radiation detector, which detects any radiation that might be emitted into the air.

“We’re relatively small and we only run one shift (from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.),” Herminghuysen said. “We are only operating when we have the reason. We emit very little (radiation).”

The allowable radiation exposure to an outside person, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s website, is 100 millirem per year. The reactor only emits 2 to 3 percent of that. Americans receive 620 millirem of radiation per year through cosmic radiation, the Earth and internal radiation.


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