A Monday Quiz — A Blue Glow

The Advanced Test Reactor at Idaho National Laboratory uses plate type fuel in a clover leaf arrangement. The blue glow around the core is known as Cherenkov radiation. Courtesy of Idaho National Laboratory.

This Advanced Test Reactor runs tests that determine how fuels and materials react when bombarded by streams of neutrons and gamma rays under a variety of pressure and temperature conditions. Information that would normally require years to gather from normal reactor operations can be obtained in a matter of weeks or months. The primary “customer” of the reactor is the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program.

The NRC licenses 31 research and test reactors in 21 states (as of 2014); eight research reactors are being decommissioned. We also license the operators and conduct some 50 inspections each year. DOE, however, regulates this particular test reactor.


Where is this test reactor located?
What scientist (and Nobel Prize winner) gave his name to the blue glow seen in this photo?


Emergency Preparedness on a Smaller Scale: Research Reactors

Michael Norris
Reactor Licensing Team Leader
Emergency Preparedness Division

When you think of the NRC’s role in emergency preparedness, nuclear power plants probably come first to mind. While we certainly pay a lot of attention to commercial reactors, we also oversee emergency plans for plants that make nuclear fuel, permanently shut down plants and sites that store spent power plant fuel.

Yet another area of emergency preparedness we oversee involves research and test reactors.

rtrThese “non-power” reactors don’t generate electricity, but they contribute to almost every field of science. These small facilities play important roles in research, testing and education on college campuses, and at government agencies across the country.

The NRC requires research and test reactors to maintain the same sort of emergency plans that large commercial reactors do. The NRC requires that these plans include, among other things, how to assess and classify abnormal events, how to respond to events, and how to establish planning zones for environmental monitoring and protective actions if needed.

The plans are very simple for research and test reactors since they are relatively small compared to a commercial nuclear power reactor. In fact, the largest NRC-regulated research reactor is about 75 times smaller than the smallest commercial reactor. Research and test reactor planning zones range in size from the building the reactor sits in to only about a half-mile radius around the facility – much smaller than the 10-mile emergency zone for power reactors.

Research and test reactors are required to train personnel and hold emergency preparedness exercises, and the NRC routinely inspects the plans to make sure they meet our requirements.

Should anything ever occur at these small non-power reactors, the NRC makes sure the facility staff know what to do and how to react to make sure people living or working or attending school in the area are safe, and that the environment is not impacted. It’s just another facet of what the NRC does on a large scale every day.