With the Internet + Research Reactors
31 October 2013 | Since the 1940s, when the University of Chicago hosted the world’s first nuclear reactor Chicago Pile-1 (CP-1), strong links have existed between education and training organisations and research reactors. Today’s technology allows a Jordanian student to interact with a research reactor in the US, using the Internet.
Many of the over 240 currently operating research reactors are either hosted on college or university campuses or predominately used for education and training purposes. They are vital for the medical, industrial and scientific sectors, but education and training is their most frequently listed application, according to the IAEA Research Reactor Database. Used with classroom lectures, simulators and now with E-learning techniques, research reactors provide unique experiences to students.
Since 2009, the Eastern European Research Reactor Initiative (EERRI), a coalition of reactors from Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovenia, has been offering a practical Group Fellowship programme for new graduates and other technical experts with little or no specific nuclear experience.
The six-week programme includes many practical exercises on reactor theory, utilization and operation. It culminates with the actual operation of a reactor. At least three host reactors are involved in each course.
To date, 53 students have been trained; including the 8 fellows participating in the current session of the programme which finishes on 8 November 2013. The course and the EERRI initiative were developed within a regional IAEA Technical Cooperation (TC) project and fellowships are supported using TC as well as Peaceful Uses Initiative (PUI) funding.
The IAEA’s PUI funds are also used to expand the fellowship and coalition concept to other regions. An August workshop in Kuala Lumpur looked into such cooperation among research reactors in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam. The five IAEA lecturers led practical, hands-on training sessions to supplement classroom lectures. Asia- Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) supported other expert lecturers.
In 2010, the IAEA deployed an international internet reactor project using funds received from the USA, and in cooperation with the Jordanian University of Science and Technology (JUST) and the Jordanian Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC).
The Internet Reactor Laboratory (IRL) links an operating reactor at North Carolina State University (NCSU) in the USA with students at JUST and JAEC. Via video conferencing equipment and web-based data transfer, students and local instructors can interact directly with reactor operators as well as an NCSU instructor.
The IAEA is using PUI funds to expand the concept to South America, Europe and Africa. These IRLs are being developed around host reactors such as RA-6 in Argentina and ISIS in France.
A December 2012 cross-cutting Technical Meeting organized by the Division of Nuclear Power and the Division of Nuclear Fuel Cycle and Waste Technology, both within the IAEA Department of Nuclear Energy, discussed the role of research reactors in nuclear power related capacity building.
Participants agreed that research reactors, especially lower power facilities with more flexible operating schedules, offer unique capabilities for practical experiments and exercises. They also concluded that while a research reactor is not a prerequisite for a country to develop nuclear power, access to research reactor capabilities, possibly in another country, is almost always part of such a programme.
By Edward Bradley (NEFW)
This story was first published in the September 2013 issue of the NEFW Newsletter.