Neutron Science In the News – 2015

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SNS up and running at conservative power level; investigation continues on target failures

Knoxville News Sentinel 2/2

The Spallation Neutron Source, one of ORNL's signature research facilities, resumed operations a week ago following an abbreviated winter maintenance outage. According to Kevin Jones, who heads the lab's Research Accelerator Division, the SNS is operating well at a reduced power level of 850 kW, which he acknowledged was a "target conservation mode."

A couple of the target vessels failed prematurely last fall, which created troubling interruptions in the schedule of research experiments. The target vessel holds and circulates 20 tons of mercury, which produces neutrons when struck many times a second by a powerful proton beam. The SNS is running at below-max power to help protect the target vessel currently installed until more backups arrive at the Oak Ridge complex.


ORNL's research reactor returns to action following upgrades, repairs, maintenance

Knoxville News Sentinel 1/14

Tim Powers, Oak Ridge National Laboratory's reactor chief, said the High Flux Isotope Reactor resumed operations on Tuesday (Jan. 13), following a 32-day outage for maintenance and repairs.

Powers said the maintenance period was a little longer than usual because it took place over the holidays. The ORNL official cited several tasks that were completed during the outage.

There apparently were no problems during the restart and ramp up to power, and the plan is to operate the High Flux Isotope Reactor for 24 days before shutting down on Feb. 6 for additional maintenance and refueling.

DOE uses SNS as role model for project management

Knoxville News Sentinel 1/13

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz is speaking Thursday at an event hosted by the National Academy of Public Administration, timed with the release of the agency's year-in-the-making report on project management reforms.

The report, of course, acknowledges DOE's bad times with project management, including a long residency on the GAO High-Risk List. There are a number of recommendations for improvement.

Interestingly, the report cites the Spallation Neutron Source at Oak Ridge National Laboratory as a positive "case study" for project management. The $1.2 billion SNS came in on schedule and under budget. (That project was one reason that then-NNSA Administrator Bruce Held last year asked ORNL Director Thom Mason, who guided the SNS to completion, to head a Red Team to evaluate alternatives for the Uranium Processing Facility at Y-12.)

Water, water, everywhere - Controlling the properties of nanomaterials

Nanowerk 1/12

Scientists at the US Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory are learning how the properties of water molecules on the surface of metal oxides can be used to better control these minerals and use them to make products such as more efficient semiconductors for organic light emitting diodes and solar cells, safer vehicle glass in fog and frost, and more environmentally friendly chemical sensors for industrial applications.

The behavior of water at the surface of a mineral is determined largely by the ordered array of atoms in that area, called the interfacial region. However, when the particles of the mineral or of any crystalline solid are nanometer-sized, interfacial water can alter the crystalline structure of the particles, control interactions between particles that cause them to aggregate, or strongly encapsulate the particles, which allows them to persist for long periods in the environment. As water is an abundant component of our atmosphere, it is usually present on nanoparticle surfaces exposed to air.

HFIR's fuel inventory at historic low

Knoxville News Sentinel 1/9

The High Flux Isotope Reactor, a key research facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, has the lowest fuel inventory in its history. And that's saying something for a nuclear reactor that's been in business since the mid-1960s.

After the ORNL reactor is refueled for scheduled start-up on Jan. 13 (it's currently shut down for maintenance), there will be only six fuel assemblies available for future use. That's not much considering the fuel cycle for HFIR is only 23 days, which means it has to be refueled about once a month.

Mind you, the HFIR doesn't use just any old, off-the-shelf nuclear fuel. The hundreds of intricate and complex fuel plates that comprise the reactor's nuclear core -- and provide remarkably concentrated streams of neutrons for material experiments and production of radioisotopes -- are made with highly enriched uranium. That-s very, very enriched uranium, consisting of 93.8 percent U-235, the fissionable isotope of uranium. Because the uranium is bomb grade, special approvals are involved with lots of security.

'Seeing' hydrogen atoms to unveil enzyme catalysis

Nanowerk News 1/7

Enzymes are catalysts that speed up chemical reactions in living organisms and control many cellular biological processes by converting a molecule, or substrate, into a product used by the cell. For scientists, understanding details of how enzymes work is essential to the discovery of drugs to cure diseases and treat disorders.

A multi-institutional research team led by Chris Dealwis from Case Western Reserve University has used the new IMAGINE instrument at Oak Ridge National Laboratory's (ORNL's) High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR) to map an enzyme that could play an important role in anti-cancer drug development.