Idaho National Laboratory celebrates Advanced Test Reactor’s 50th anniversary
IDAHO FALLS —Today, employees and visitors gathered at Idaho National Laboratory’s Advanced Test Reactor to celebrate the contributions of the ATR to advance nuclear energy research.
In a prepared video message, Idaho’s congressional delegation recognized the achievement and the critical role the ATR plays in securing our nation’s energy future. The video is available at this link.
The ATR, along with its predecessors, the Materials Testing Reactor and Engineering Test Reactor (now both decommissioned), has produced much of the world’s data on the behavior of materials and fuels in the radiation environments inside nuclear power reactors. This information has contributed significantly to the safety of commercial nuclear power plants worldwide and the outstanding performance of the U.S. Navy’s nuclear fleet.
INL Laboratory Director Mark Peters said, “The Advanced Test Reactor truly is one of the crown jewels of this laboratory. Capabilities at ATR and the Materials and Fuels Complex allow INL, working with industry and academia, to ensure the competitiveness of nuclear energy for decades to come.”
Among its many features, the ATR is designed as a virtual “time machine” to study the effects of radiation on reactor materials and fuels. It enables scientists to place materials in the reactor and then expose those materials to high concentrations of neutrons, to duplicate in only weeks or months the years of exposure that such materials would experience in, for example, a commercial reactor’s radiation environment. This capability enables researchers to understand how materials and fuels will behave over their lifetime in many types of reactors.
The ATR’s core design allows many experiments to be conducted simultaneously, with each experiment receiving a different and carefully controlled level of radiation. The ATR has been safely performing these valuable tests since July 2, 1967.
The U.S. Navy is the ATR’s primary customer. Results of those tests have allowed the Navy to maintain an outstanding safety record and extend the at-sea life of nuclear-powered vessels.
For many years, the ATR has supported tests for a number of other customers, including the nuclear agencies of other countries and industry. In 2007, the Department of Energy designated the ATR a Nuclear Science User Facility. As a science user facility, the ATR offers unique domestic capabilities for nuclear fuel and reactor materials system development that universities, industry and regulatory agencies can utilize.
The ATR has also been the source of valuable medical and industrial isotopes, such as cobalt-60. Medical isotopes can help treat cancer, diagnose disorders, or address ailments such as arthritis and hyperthyroidism. Millions of patients around the world benefit from nuclear medicine.