MIT Reports to the President 1994-95

Nuclear Reactor Laboratory

During the past year the Nuclear Reactor Laboratory (NRL) continued its joint interdisciplinary activities with both MIT and non-MIT collaborators, including academic departments and interdepartmental laboratories and a number of other universities, schools, and nonprofit research institutions, such as teaching hospitals. These joint research or teaching and training activities cover a wide spectrum in the life and physical sciences and in engineering, including development of a brain cancer therapy, nuclear engineering, computer control of reactors, training in reactor operations, dose reduction in power reactors, and radiochemistry and trace analysis applied to the health effects from energy use, nutrition, earth and planetary sciences, archeology, environmental studies, and nuclear medicine. In the past year, a panel of MIT and non-MIT membership has examined the value and cost of the MITR reactor project, with the objective of assessing options for the facility's future. Plans are in progress for an upgrade to 10 MW. The first step in that process was to obtain an extension of the current facility's operating license. This was accomplished on February 8, 1995. The license was extended from May 1996 to August 1999. This extension will provide ample time to finalize plans for an upgrade.

Especially noteworthy developments were the continued operation of the in-pile slow strain tensile testing facility which successfully completed the first ever actively loaded slow strain test in an in-pile autoclave at BWR conditions, the initial operation of a facility for the study of in-core instrumented crack sensors and electrochemical corrosion potential sensors which addresses the effect of hydrogen injection on crack growth rate, and the continued program in joint research with Tufts-New England Medical Center on the treatment of brain cancer utilizing the boron neutron capture method. The latter project has reached the clinical trial phase and has had a doubling of its budget after the latest site review. A major activity to carry out nuclear transmutation doping of semiconductor grade silicon single crystals was continued and currently NTD silicon crystals are being produced at a rate of ~ 10 tonnes/year, with a gross income to the MITR of more than $1M/year.


The prompt gamma neutron activation analysis facility was used both for research and in support of the neutron capture therapy clinical trials. Its sensitivity now exceeds the sensitivity, by a factor of 2-3, of other prompt gamma facilities located at reactors of up to twice the power of the MIT Research Reactor (MITR-II). A new initiative in neutron beam tube research has been proposed and, as a first step, neutron reflectometry will be developed by a faculty team headed by a new junior faculty in Nuclear Engineering.


Professor Frederick A. Frey, Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, and Dr. Pillalamarri Ila continue to operate a Neutron Activation Analysis (NAA) facility dedicated for trace element analyses of rocks and soils.

During the past year a major effort has been participation in the Hawaiian Scientific Drilling Project the ultimate objective of which is to understand the entire history of Hawaiian volcanoes. The chemical compositions of lavas forming these volcanoes, the largest on earth, change systematically with eruption age and this information can be used to constrain the source, composition and mineralogy, and the depth and extent of melting.

Dr. Ilhan Olmez continued a major attempt to increase the utilization of NRL by making its neutron activation analysis facilities and expertise available to industry, other universities, private and governmental laboratories, and hospitals in the area (as described in The MIT REPORT, May 1986). Research and/or service-oriented collaborations were established with several MIT research laboratories as well as with other educational and research institutions in addition to those established in previous years, including the following: Environment Canada; Harvard University; The Technical University of Budapest; Middle East Technical University, Ankara; and the University of Connecticut. Commercial organizations that utilized the NAA expertise of NRL during the past year were Physical Sciences Inc., Andover, Massachusetts; the Empire State Electric Energy Research Corporation (ESEERCO), New York; the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), Palo Alto, California; CARNOT, Tustin, California; Energy Reserch Corporation, Danbury, Connecticut; Oculan Corporation, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Spire Corporation, Bedford, Massachusetts; and Radian Corporation, Houston, Texas.

Within MIT, research support has been provided to several departments. This research support includes: analyzing trace elements in biological samples for Professor Richard J. Wurtman (Clinical Research Center); using INAA to find impurities in samples for Professor Bernardt J. Wuensch (Department of Materials Science & Engineering); doing sediment analysis for Dr. Richard Lanza (Department of Nuclear Engineering); analysis of various environmental and biological samples for trace and toxic metals for Professor William G. Thilly (Center for Environmental Health Sciences); and analysis of peat cores for trace metals for Professor Harold F. Hemond (Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering).

Dr. Olmez has been actively engaged in a number of environmental research projects. A three-year $500,000 grant which was obtained from the Empire State Electric Energy Research Corporation to study the current toxic metal levels in atmospheric particulate materials and wet deposition in upstate New York continued. Additional funding of $216,000 has been obtained for this project.

Funding continued in the past year for the study of the fate of mercury in the environment (ESEERCO, $600,000/three years).

New funding ($104,000) has been obtained from EPRI on a major collaborative effort to provide basic scientific information that will serve air quality management in the eastern United States.

Course 22.78, Nuclear Techniques in Environmental Analysis, was offered by Dr. I. Olmez. There are currently three Ph.D. candidates working on projects in environmental research.

A number of other research applications of NAA are summarized in a subsequent section, Reactor Irradiations and Services for Research Groups outside MIT.


All of the technology to permit initiation of clinical treatment of neutron capture therapy for refractory tumors such as melanoma, brain metastases, and glioblastoma multiforme was in place early in 1994 and all eleven approvals required by institutional and governmental boards for these trials were received as of August 1994. Initiation of clinical trials was begun in September 1994 under an FDA mandated Phase One protocol. Thus far, three subjects with deep-seated melanoma have participated. None has shown any adverse reaction and one has shown some improvement of the diseased region. These results were as expected for this initial step of the Phase One protocol.

The MIT Reactor also supports nuclear medicine programs conducted by several hospital and radiopharmaceutical groups outside MIT. Included in this work is the successful program in radiation synovectomy for rheumatoid arthritis at the Brigham and Women's Hospital.


The NRL supports a subdiscipline in the Nuclear Engineering Department (NED), Radiation Health Physics, by providing relevant research opportunities and a specially designed laboratory/demonstration course. This course, 22.09-22.59 Principles of Nuclear Radiation Measurement and Protection, is appropriate for all students in NED. The Radiation Health Physics program was originated by Professor Otto K. Harling at the NRL and is now under the direction of Professor Jacquelyn C. Yanch, NED. The program is designed to produce graduates who are well educated in nuclear engineering fundamentals as well as in the basics of radiation measurement, management, and protection. Basing this activity at the NRL is particularly appropriate because the MITR provides excellent opportunities to learn many aspects of this subfield in a realistic environment. Support for graduate students has been obtained from the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, from several nuclear utilities, and several NRL research projects. In the past year, several students have done special problems at the NRL to explore the interface between engineering and the radiation services.


Dr. John A. Bernard of the NRL and Professor David D. Lanning, Nuclear Engineering Department, continued studies on the closed-loop, digital control of nuclear reactors during both steady-state and transient operation. Assistance was received from Professors Allan F. Henry and John E. Meyer (NED). A general set of control principles, based on reactivity constraints and intended for nonlinear conditions, was deduced and experimentally demonstrated on the MIT Reactor during 1983-1985. This approach is unique in that it is based on the general equations of reactor dynamics rather than on measurements of specific response characteristics. The `reactivity constraint approach' was licensed by the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for general use on the 5 MW MIT Research Reactor in April 1985. As a result, closed-loop control experiments can be performed without à priori restrictions on the associated reactivity. Among the concepts developed and experimentally tested on the MIT Research Reactor have been a rule-based controller, an on-line method for control law reconfiguration, period-generated control laws, model-based methods including feedforward control, and automated startup technologies. Present efforts include an experimental evaluation of flux synthesis methods for reactivity estimation, and control of reactors in spacecraft. This work is currently supported by the United States Department of Energy (DOE). Six major reports summarizing both the theoretical and experimental work performed in this area have now been issued.


A study of zinc injection under pressurized water reactor (PWR) conditions was completed under sponsorship from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and a Japanese utility group. The effect of zinc injection on radioactive corrosion product transport was evaluated. This research used a compact loop operating in the MIT reactor. Principal investigators are Professor Otto K. Harling and Dr. Gordon Kohse of the NRL. Evaluation of the results is continuing with the involvement of a graduate student funded by the French Centre d'Energie Atomique. Work is also ongoing to complete a companion program of boiling water reactor (BWR) corrosion experiments using another in-pile loop.


The first program of testing using this unique in-pile slow strain rate testing facility has been completed and a doctoral thesis which carefully evaluates the data is in progress. A new $1 M program, sponsored by the Tokyo Electric Power Company will begin in September '95. The in-core facility will be modified to permit multiple-specimen, constant load tests to address the problem of core-shroud cracking in BWRs.


The Sensor project, which also studies the phenomenon of IASCC, completed a three-month irradiation program in June '95. This irradiation provided data from in-core instrumented crack sensors and electrochemical corrosion potential sensors which address the effect of hydrogen injection on crack growth rate. Principal investigators are Professor Ronald G. Ballinger (NED) and Dr. Gordon Kohse (NRL).


With funding from MIT and from the USDOE, efforts to examine options for upgrading the MITR have continued. Four senior Nuclear Engineering professors, several research staff, and more than ten students were involved in this effort during the last year. An increase in power to 10 MW from the current 5 MW appears feasible with relatively minor changes to the current heat removal systems. Studies on the thermal-hydraulic behavior of such an upgraded reactor were recently completed. These established a method for generating the appropriate safety limits.

The MIT Administration established a panel which reviewed the cost and benefits of the MIT Research Reactor Project.


In nuclear medicine, the development and/or continuing production of radioisotopes for use by researchers at hospitals and other universities included: 1) production of Dy-165 for Dr. Clement B. Sledge of Brigham and Women's Hospital for research studies in the treatment of arthritis; 2) research activities by Professor Fred Bruenger of the University of Utah using solid state fission track detectors to analyze the plutonium content of bones; 3) investigations by Dr. McDonald Wrenn of the University of Utah using track etching techniques to determine the lower detection limit of uranium in water; and 4) evaluation of copper and gold for arthritis treatments by Dr. Alan B. Packard of Children's Hospital.

In a number of other areas, also, reactor irradiations and services were performed for research groups outside MIT. Most of these represent continuations of previous research: 1) Dr. Alan P. Fleer of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute used irradiation to determine natural actinides and plutonium in marine sediments; 2) Dr. Robert Kaiser of Entropic Systems, Inc., is studying the irradiation of fluorinated oils, (3) Mr. Leonard Cirignano of Refraction Monitoring Devices, Inc., is investigating the effects of irradiation on liquid crystals; 4) Dr. James Thompson of Oak Ridge National Laboratory is studying radiation hardening of superconducting material; 5) Dr. Gerjian P. Van Bakel of Northwestern University is studying neutron damage of Ni-Al alloys; and 6) Dr. Fitzgerald of the University of Connecticut at Storrs evaluated air samples for mercury. Additional NAA services, including many for research groups outside MIT, are reported above in the section entitled Environmental Research and Radiochemistry.

Whereas most of the above outside users pay for irradiation services at the reactor, educational institutions needing such services for their own academic or research purposes are assisted in this regard by the USDOE through its "Reactor Sharing Program." A grant to MITNRL reimburses us for the costs of providing irradiation services and facilities to other institutions (including teaching hospitals and middle and high schools). Under this program 606 students and 49 faculty and staff from over 35 other educational institutions benefited from visits to and use of the MITR during the past year.

Research utilization of the MITR by other institutions under the Reactor Sharing Program during the past year has included: 1) use by Professors J. Christopher Hepburn and Rudolph Hon of Boston College to activate geological specimens and standards for the NAA of rare earth and other trace elements in studies of the geological development of the northeastern United States; 2) irradiation of geological specimens by Professor Paul Karabinos at Williams College; 3) gamma irradiation of plant seeds for several area high school students participating in science fair projects; 4) measurements of boron concentration and work on high resolution track etch autoradiography for Professor Robert Zamenhof of Tufts-New England Medical Center; 5) participation in several special high school student projects; 6) neutron activation analysis of subsurface water supplies by Professor Jack Beal at Fairfield

University; and 7) neutron activation analysis of ice core samples by Professor Chester C. Langway, Jr., of the State University of New York at Buffalo.

For education of the general public and students at all levels in local and other New England schools, the reactor staff provides lectures and tours periodically throughout the year. One local university incorporated reactor visits and experiments into its regular course curricula, as follows: The University of Massachusetts, Harbor Campus, Professor Martin Posner, Department of Physics, Physics 603, 10 students, 4 visits.


The NRL supports the affirmative action goals of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Of a staff of 35 there are currently six engineering and management positions held by minorities and women. The NRL participated in the USDOEs program for minority training in reactor operations, and one of our current senior reactor operators is a graduate of this program. Three women are currently in training to become licensed reactor operators.


The MIT Reactor completed its 37th year of operation, its 21st since the 1974-75 shutdown for upgrading and overhaul. The reactor normally operates on a Monday through Friday schedule. However, for the past year the reactor often operated continuously (seven days per week) to support several major experiments related to the dose reduction studies. Also, much low power testing was performed for the neutron capture therapy program. On average, the MIT Reactor was operated 117 hours per week with 109 hours per week at its design power level of 5 MW. Energy output for the MITR-II, as the upgraded reactor is now called, totaled 342,289 megawatt-hours at June 30, 1995. The MITR-I generated 250,445 MW in the sixteen years from 1958 to 1974.

To summarize briefly the reactor utilization described in more detail above, it was well utilized during the year, although still more experiments and irradiations can be accommodated due to the number and versatility of its many facilities. The reactor, as an integrated whole, continues to be used in a series of experiments designed to demonstrate the feasibility and advantages of reactor control by digital computer. Two pressurized loops for a major interdepartmental project on dose reduction for power reactors are installed in the reactor. A major project on irradiation-assisted stress corrosion cracking, initiated with United States and Japanese support, has also been installed, as has a facility for in-pile sensor testing. The number of specimen irradiations was 904. There were 18 irradiations in the medical room, most in support of the neutron capture therapy program for the treatment of brain cancer and subcutaneous melanoma. Theses and publications on research supported by the reactor are running at about 10 and 65 per year, respectively. A total of 1273 people toured the MIT Research Reactor during 1994.

A project has been initiated for the neutron transmutation doping of single crystal silicon ingots in one of the reactor's horizontal throughports. Physics and engineering studies were performed to characterize the neutron beam and to determine the feasibility of uniformly irradiating the ingots with simultaneous translational motion over an interval of several days through the beam port. These measurements and design studies were done by the MITR staff. Based on these results a machine for the irradiation of ingots was designed, built, and installed. Operation began in 1994 and this project is now providing a source of base support to the reactor.

DOE continues as the supplier of fuel to university research and training reactors. Babcock and Wilcox (B&W), Lynchburg, Virginia, is the fabricator and is commencing production of another batch of fuel for the MITR-II.

Otto K. Harling

MIT Reports to the President 1994-95