Editor's Note: Campus Findings is a weekly column about things on campus that trigger the curiosity of the Iowa State community. Carrie Sutton, junior in journalism and mass communication, will investigate the inquires each week and post her findings. Submit inquires to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Iowa State's nuclear reactor is about to be decommissioned.
Scott Wendt, reactor manager, said since the nuclear engineering department and program have been eliminated, "there's no more mission or purpose for [the reactor]."
Wendt said the reactor, which was built in 1959, was used as a research tool for nuclear engineering graduate students and professors, and as a laboratory teaching tool for undergraduates.
Daniel Bullen, director of the reactor facility and associate professor of mechanical engineering, said ISU was the second university in the United States to have a nuclear reactor as a teaching tool. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology was the first.
Wendt said the cost to manage and replace equipment on the reactor was the reason for its demise.
"It wasn't unsafe; it was a financial problem," Wendt said. "It didn't make sense to spend the money anymore."
Wendt said the fuel has been removed from the reactor, and it is no longer in use. He said the building will be investigated for radioactivity next week.
ISU hired Duke Engineering & Services to help with the decommissioning, and the company will submit a plan that must be approved by the university, Wendt said. For the reactor to be decommissioned, it must be approved by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, he said.
After everything is approved, ISU will ask the government to take the reactor apart, Wendt said. He said the process of decommissioning and tearing down the reactor will take about two years.
"It's a long process," he said.
Wendt said the first step will be to remove the fuel from the sight in metal plate packages and send them to South Carolina.
The radioactive parts of the reactor and its concrete shield will be chiseled away and sent to Utah for disposal, he said. The non-radioactive parts will be placed in a landfill, Wendt said.
Bullen said the laboratory will be inspected at least twice to see if the level of radioactivity is safe for the natural background. A new concrete floor will be placed, and the room will be used for a laboratory, Wendt said.
Wendt said the reactor, which is located in the Nuclear Engineering Laboratory on the west side of campus, never powered ISU's campus because it was too small. He said it mostly was used for demonstrations.
At full power, the reactor produced nine gallons of water per minute. The water entered the reactor at 80 degrees Fahrenheit and exited at 88 degrees, Wendt said. He said the reactor produced little waste, and other laboratories on campus produce more chemical waste than the reactor.
The small waste, such as rubber gloves and rags, is incinerated, and the larger waste is sent to ISU's Environmental Health and Safety department, Wendt said. He said because the U.S. Department of Energy leases the fuel to ISU at no cost to promote energy, the DOE has to accept high level fuel back.
Wendt said the nuclear engineering department was recently eliminated and placed under the mechanical engineering department as a program of study. He said the undergraduate program was eliminated in the early '90s, and the graduate program was closed about two years ago.
"If you look [for] nuclear engineering in the new catalog, it isn't there anymore," Wendt said.
Bullen said the nuclear engineering program was evaluated under an academic program review. He said at the time of the study, the demand for nuclear engineering in Iowa was not large enough for the rate of expected growth. However, Bullen said there has been more growth than expected since the program's elimination.