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WSU Receives $740K in funding to upgrade its nuclear reactor

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(The Center Square) – Washington State University recently received almost three-quarters of a million dollars in federal funding, courtesy of the Department of Energy, to upgrade their one megawatt TRIGA nuclear reactor.

The acronym, TRIGA, stands for Training, Research, Isotopes, and General Atomics reactor. They are a specialized reactor that can be installed in a pool of water without a containment facility, allowing for lower total cost of operation and easier access for maintenance and experiment purposes.

With less than 30 of these small reactors licensed to operate across the private and university research sectors, their operational time is in high demand for researchers in the public and private sectors.

The goal of this upgrade, according to the submitted grant abstract, is to upgrade the secondary cooling loop which “ensures operational stability of the reactor, reduces thermal cycling of the reactor pool structure and core components”

This upgrade would allow the reactor to operate for extended periods of time at full power regardless of the environmental conditions for dumping waste heat, something the current secondary cooling loop precludes.

“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 WSU Nuclear Science Center Director Corey Hines to the school newspaper WSU Insider.

Hines was also the principal investigator listed on the grant abstract for the $740,000 in funding.

That funding is part of the Department of Energy’s fiscal year 2023 Infrastructure Awards through their Nuclear Energy University Program.

This year those funds amounted to more than $6.3 million across 18 university-led projects, and will be used for “research and infrastructure improvements, providing important safety, performance, and student education-related upgrades to a portion of the nation’s 25 university reactors.”

Funds from the same Department of Energy grant in prior years have been used to upgrade other aspects of the reactor, which is an ongoing process for scientists and researchers operating the unique power facility.

“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,” added Hines.

Housed at the Dodgen Research Facility on the WSU Pullman campus, upgrades to the reactor are expected to take place incrementally over the next two years.

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