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The other face of Trinity
As the birthplace, and guide of
nuclear power, the visitor to Argonne might expect to see a considerable amount
of nuclear power development going on here, and perhaps it is; but it is not
made accessible to tour groups. Instead, an exhibit, highlighting the history,
as well as the current state of the are, has been set up. Argonne is descended
from the interestingly named University of Chicago Metallurgical Lab. Though the
name may conjure visions of materials researchers, attempting to find stronger
metals, and new alloys for building and engineering, the metals with which this
lab were primarily concerned were uranium, and plutonium. The University of
Chicago Metallurgical Lab was pretty much a front, for the development of the
atomic bomb. After the war, Argonne concerned itself with the development of
nuclear power generation, while weapons development continued out at places like
A model of the world's first nuclear reactor. CP1 was built under the grandstand at the old Stagg field, on the campus of the University of Chicago. It remained there for several months, before being dismantled and moved to a site in the Pallos Woods area, just a few miles from the present site of Argonne. After it's reassembly, it was renamed CP2.
taking a look at the original log book, and signatures, from the first ever controlled nuclear reaction. These are the original books, with the original notes and signatures from the actual event.
The nuclear fuel cycle, in a conventional "slow" reactor, using a moderator. Only about 3 - 5% of the fuel is burned, by the time the rod is useless. Though 95 - 97% of the fuel is left, the rod will be useless, due to the neutron absorbing properties of the nuclear "ash" produced. This nuclear ash is also highly radioactive, and very tricky to handle.
Our guide, standing next to a full sized nuclear fuel assembly. In an actual reactor, this would be filled with little pellets of uranium oxide. The oxide is used, rather than the pure metal, because uranium metal expands greatly, as it is heated, and would split the walls of the container. A new assembly would be perfectly safe, however after a few years, when the nuclear ash builds up, it would be suicidal to even be in the same building with such an assembly, much less the same room.
A model of a modern nuclear reactor, including the cooling pools. These pools are where spent nuclear fuel rods are stored, until they are cool enough to be moved to nuclear disposal sites. They are then buried under Yucca mountain, and sealed up. It is interesting to note that most of our current supply of nuclear fuel comes from disassembled warheads of the former Soviet Union.
|A mock up of the core of a modern fast reactor, so called because its fuel is burned by fast neutrons, rather than the slowed down neutrons of the moderated reactors. These are also called breeder reactors, because they can extend the life of their fuels supply, by producing fissionables, rather than the poisons of the slow reactors. This is the newest and most efficient reactor design, and was developed here at Argonne. None are in use in America, though they are used in Japan, and France, as well as a few other places. This type or reactor can produce thirty times the electricity, from a given amount of fuel, as the more conventional type of slow reactor; but the fuel does require reprocessing.|
A model of a reprocessing plant, for nuclear fuel. This would seem to be the answer; but there are no fast reactors in the United States, even though the technology was invented here. This is because the same characteristics that make these materials amenable to reprocessing, also make them amenable to bomb making. Transporting these materials to processing plants, and then back to reactors make for a tempting target for terrorists, or even for some nations
A display shows the steps used to reprocess nuclear fuel, for a fast reactor.
The IFR (Integral Fast Reactor), would seem to be the answer.
The IFR is a fast reactor, that is entirely self contained, to the extent that once the reactor is complete and loaded with fuel, it is sealed up so that entry is impossible. Everything is then done by automatics, or by remote control. Even the reprocessing is done inside, by remote control, so that no fuel ever leaves the vessel. Even if someone should attempt to break in, the environment is so deadly, that they would not live long enough to profit from anything they might steal. Such places would also be, needless to say, well guarded.
A building for nuclear research. As with the IFR above, humans do not enter here. It is all done remotely.
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