- Associated Press - Sunday, October 5, 2014

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) - Idaho’s nuclear research laboratory is in the process of refurbishing a 1959 nuclear reactor to restart testing new fuel designs and power levels.

The U.S. Department of Energy is spending $75 million to restart the reactor, known as TREAT, by 2018, the Post Register (https://bit.ly/1vDGVDL) reported.

Idaho National Laboratory transient testing director John Bumgardner says federal officials expressed interest in resuming the reactor’s testing abilities after the 2011 nuclear accident in Fukushima, Japan.

The Department of Energy conducted several cost-benefit studies across the country but Idaho’s TREAT reactor won as the best option.

Bumgardner said Idaho’s reactor was selected largely because operators in 1988 completely refurbished the system before it shuttered six years later.

“The people who worked at this reactor in the past did a brilliant job,” Bumgardner said. “It has a very low use of uranium, and as a result, the reactor can run for a long time.”

The Japan nuclear accident caused Congress to direct the energy department to renew efforts to develop more accident-tolerant nuclear fuel.

The reactor had been shut off since 1994, largely because of a lack of customers.

INL officials say they tracked down former employees to gain knowledge about the machine. They are now working to replace the computer system -the current one has 8-inch floppy drives- and train a 40-person full-time staff who will operate the reactor.

Keith Penny, TREAT plant manager, compared the reactor to a 1959 classic car that was fully restored in the 1980s. After it was restored, Penny said, it sat untouched inside a garage ever since.

“The design of this machine is unreal,” he said.

The reactor can hold several 17-foot metal control rods that are pumped continuously in and out of the core. Under the reactor’s core, various pistons are positioned to slow or accelerate a nuclear reaction.

TREAT is set to be INL’s third active nuclear reactor. However, not everyone is excited about it.

Beatrice Brailsford with the Snake River Alliance questioned if the demand for transient testing has increased since 1994, when officials cited lack of customers as one of the main reasons to shut it down.

Anti-nuclear group Keep Yellowstone Nuclear Free also opposes the reactor.

“An accident at the TREAT Reactor can, INL admits, have an impact on people who live and work offsite,” wrote Kit DesLauriers of Keep Yellowstone Nuclear Free, “. the most careful and realistic assessment must be done, and there must be full public participation in the decision to restart.”


Information from: Post Register, https://www.postregister.com

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