MIT Reports to the President 1995-96


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 cancer therapy, nuclear engineering, computer control of reactors, training in reactor operations, dose reduction and materials performance in power reactors, and radio-chemistry and trace analysis applied to the health effects from energy use, nutrition, earth and planetary sciences, archeology, environmental studies, and nuclear medicine. Plans are in progress for an upgrade of MITR to 10 MW. Engineering studies have indicated that the current core design will allow doubling of the reactor's power with relatively minor changes to the heat removal systems. The license extension to 1999 will provide ample time to finalize plans for an upgrade and submission of a relicensing document.

Especially noteworthy developments were the successful initiation of a multiple specimen, actively loaded in-core test for stress corrosion cracking studies of cold-worked stainless steels for BWR application and the continued program in joint research with New England Deaconess Hospital on the treatment of cancer utilizing the boron neutron capture method. The clinical trials of boron neutron capture therapy were continued successfully with no observed toxicity and with clear indications of tumor regression in several cases.


The prompt gamma neutron activation analysis facility was used both for research and in support of the neutron capture therapy clinical trials. A new initiative in neutron beam tube research has been initiated and, as a first step, neutron reflectometry will be developed by a faculty team headed by Professor X.-L. Zhou in Nuclear Engineering.


Professor Frederick A. Frey, Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, and Dr. Pillalamarri Ila operate a Neutron Activation Analysis Facility dedicated to determining the abundance of trace elements in natural materials. During the past year their research has focused on lavas erupted during the 115 Million year history of the Kerguelen Mantle plume which has been a major control in forming the oceanic crust of the eastern Indian Ocean. Many of the studied lavas are submarine and they have been recovered by the Ocean Drilling Program. A major drilling program on the Kerguelen Plateau is anticipated in 1998.

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: Brandies University, California Institute of Technology. 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; Florida Power and Light, Florida, RTP Environmental Assoc., Inc., Westbury, New York.

Within MIT, research support has been provided to several departments. This research support includes: identification of possible inorganic catalyst contamination for Cogeneration Project, analysis of ultrahigh molecular weight polyethylene for Professor E. W. Merrill (Department of Chemical Engineering) to search for elements that may cause broad signal in electron spin resonance experiments; 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 fish tissue 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 is completed.

The study of the fate of mercury in the environment (ESEERCO, $600,000/three years) is completed.

Major collaborative effort to provide basic scientific information that will serve air quality management in the eastern United States is continued. Three Ph.D's and one Master Thesis were completed.

Course, 22.78 Nuclear Techniques in Environmental Analysis, was offered by Dr. I. Olmez. There are currently two Ph.D. candidates (Nuclear Engineering Department and Chemical Engineering) and a master student from Center for Environmental Health Sciences 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.


Clinical trials of boron neutron capture therapy for cancer were successfully continued up to the second dose level of 1250 RBE-cGy. No adverse reactions have been observed on the subjects. However, two out of three of the lowest dose irradiations of deep seated melanoma have resulted in significant tumor regression. All approvals for initiation of Phase One studies of brain cancer were obtained and these irradiations will start shortly.

A new high intensity and low background epithermal neutron beam has been designed for the MITR-II. The design is based on using spent fuel from the MITR-II in a fission converter concept. This beam would be able to irradiate patients in several minutes and would be suited for advanced clinical trials and routine therapy involving treatment of many patients per day.

BNCT research at the MIT Research Reactor, is under the direction of Professor Otto K. Harling and is carried out in collaboration with medical staff at the New England Deaconess 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. Research topics and support for Health Physics Students were provided by NRL projects especially the BNCT and Dose Reduction Projects of Professor Otto K. Harling.


Evaluation of the basic mechanisms of zinc injection effects on PWR corrosion continued with funding from the French Center of Energy Atomique.


A multiple specimen, constant load test facility was constructed and put into operation. This facility loads ten specimens in an autoclave at BWR conditions. Five specimens are in-core and five are immediately above core. Testing of the remaining specimen can continue after specimen breakage. A program of testing using this facility to study the problem of BWR core shroud cracking is in progress with funding the Tokyo Electric Power Company and EPRI. This work is under the direction of Dr. Gordon E. Kohse and involves Professor Ronald G. Ballinger and Professor Otto K. Harling as well as several graduate research students.


Instrumental crack growth specimen irradiated last year have been removed from the reactor core tank and are being prepared for shipment to the GE Vallecitos Nuclear Center for post-irradiation evaluation.


With funding from MIT, efforts to examine options for upgrading the MITR have continued. A senior Nuclear Engineering professor, several research staff, and several graduate 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. This work is directed by Dr. John A. Bernard, Director Reactor Operations at NRL.

A new nuclear safety system, capable of 10 MW operation, has been purchased and is being installed.


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. David Slaughter of the University of Utah using track etching techniques to determine the uptake pattern of heavy metals by human as well as the environment; 4) evaluation of copper and gold for arthritis treatments by Dr. Alan B. Packard of Children's Hospital; and 5) study of neutronic behavior of acrylic rods doped with boron and lithium for use in neutron monitoring devices by Dr. John Doyle of Harvard University.

In a number of other areas reactor irradiations and services were also 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 Radiation Monitoring Devices, Inc., is investigating the effects of irradiation on liquid crystals; 4) Mr. David Paquette of the SAIC is investigating calibration of ultra-sensitive neutron monitoring devices by thermal neutron fission of uranium foils; 5) Dr. Gerjian P. Van Bakel of Northwestern University is studying neutron damage of Ni-Al alloys; 6) Dr. Fitzgerald of the University of Connecticut at Storrs evaluated air samples for mercury; and 7) Dr. Xiao-Lun Wu of University of Pittsburgh used fresh D2O to perform small-angle scattering experiment. The D2O was provided by the NRL and the experiment was performed at NIST. 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 not-for-profit institutions (including teaching hospitals and middle and high schools). Under this program 500 students and 64 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 air particulate samples for NAA by Professor Gerald Koeler of the University of Michigan; 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 New England Deaconess Hospital; 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, 6 students, 3 visits.


A major project to neutron transmutation dope semiconductor grade silicon single crystals continued for a successful third year. Approximately 12 metric tons of Si crystals were accurately irradiated in shielded, automated irradiation facilities at the MITR-II. This project is under the technical direction of Professor Otto K. Harling.


The NRL supports the affirmative action goals of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Of a staff of 35 there are currently four engineering and management positions held by minorities and women. The NRL participated in the USDOE's 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 38th year of operation, its 22nd since the 1974-75 shutdown for upgrading and overhaul. The reactor originally operated on a Monday through Friday schedule. However, for the past several years the reactor has 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 108 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 370,722 megawatt-hours at June 30, 1996. 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. A modified version of the irradiation assisted stress corrosion cracking facility is installed and operating for long-term in-core irradiation. The number of specimen irradiations was 695. There were 16 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 1027 people toured the MIT Research Reactor during 1995.

Otto K. Harling

MIT Reports to the President 1995-96