MIT Reports to the President 1998-99


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, radiochemistry and trace analysis applied to the health effects from energy use, nutrition, earth and planetary sciences, environmental studies, and nuclear medicine.

There were two especially noteworthy developments during the past year. The first was the continued program in joint research with Beth Israel - Deaconess Medical Center 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. Patient trials are continuing for both melanoma and glioblastoma multiforme (brain cancer). The second was the filing with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission of a request to relicense the reactor for an additional twenty years and to upgrade the power level from 5000 kW to 6000 kW.

The prompt gamma neutron activation analysis facility was used both for research and in support of the neutron capture therapy clinical trials.


Professor Frederick A. Frey, Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, and Dr. Pillalamarri Ila supervise operation of the Neutron Activation Analysis laboratory which is part of the Center for Geochemical Analysis within the Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences Department. Trace element abundances are determined in a wide range of natural materials. Currently the laboratory is focused on analyses of volcanic rocks recovered during the ongoing Hawaiian Scientific Drilling Project and the recently completed Leg 183 of the Ocean Drilling program which focused on sampling the very large igneous province that forms the Kerguelen Plateau.

Dr. Jacquelyn C. Yanch, Department of Nuclear Engineering, succeeded Dr. Ilhan Olmez, who retired as head of the NRL's Trace Analysis Laboratory. Dr. Yanch, together with Dr. Michael Ames, continued to make the NRL's neutron activation analysis (NAA) facilities and expertise available to industry, other universities, private and governmental laboratories, and hospitals. Research and/or service-oriented collaborations were continued with several MIT research laboratories as well as with other educational and research institutions including: University of Miami, Harvard, California Institute of Technology, Tufts University, University of Utah, University of Connecticut, and University of Arizona.

Within MIT, research support has been provided to several departments. This research support includes analysis of various environmental and biological samples for trace and toxic metals for Professor William G. Thilly (Center for Environmental Health Sciences) as well as for faculty in both the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Department of Chemical Engineering.

Dr. Ames has been actively engaged in a number of environmental research projects. A three year collaborative grant to study the formation and emission of toxic substances from coal combustion has been supported by the U.S. Department of Energy. The ER&R group is now part of the Superfund Basic Research program under the direction of Professor Harry Hemond of the Parson's Laboratory. The ER&R facilities were used extensively in Course 12.119 Environmental Geochemistry.

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


Clinical phase-I trials of boron neutron capture therapy (BNCT) for melanoma on the extremities were successfully continued up to the second dose level of 1250 RBE-cGy. Five irradiations have been completed. No adverse reactions have been observed on the subjects. However, three of the five lowest dose irradiations of deep-seated melanoma have resulted in significant tumor regression. In one case a subject had two separate melanoma lesions irradiated at different times; three years later she is disease free in the irradiated areas.

Phase-I studies of brain cancer, brain metastases of melanoma, and glioblastoma multiforme were also continued. Twenty-two volunteer subjects have been irradiated, and the fifth dose level of 1420 RBE-cGy has been reached. One serious adverse reaction was observed at one of the lower dose levels. It is unclear if this was because of the BNCT irradiation. Several of the twenty-two brain tumor subjects have experienced improved performance following the experimental BNCT irradiation. One intracranial melanoma showed essentially complete regression. These trials are continuing.

A new high intensity and low background epithermal neutron beam has been designed for the MITR. The design is based on using spent fuel from the MITR in a fission converter concept. This beam would be able to irradiate patients in several minutes and will be suited for advanced clinical trials and routine therapy involving treatment of many patients per day. A $2.5 M proposal to the USDOE to construct this facility has received approval and construction is in progress. It is expected that upon completion of this new facility, MIT will possess the best neutron beam in the world for BNCT irradiations. Construction has reached an advanced stage and completion is projected for mid-year 2000.

BNCT research at the MIT Research Reactor is under the direction of Professor Otto K. Harling and is carried out in collaboration with the medical staff at the Beth Israel - Deaconess Medical Center. Six MIT graduate students are completing their theses on these projects.


The NRL supports a subdiscipline in the Nuclear Engineering Department (NED), Radiation Health Physics, by providing relevant research opportunities. The NRL also contributes to a specially designed laboratory and demonstration course. This course, 22.09/22.104, 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.

Dr. John A. Bernard, who is certified as a Health Physicist by the American Board of Health Physics, taught course 22.581, Introduction to Health Physics. This course uses the MIT Research Reactor to provide practical examples of health physics issues.


An in-core autoclave facility was constructed and operated to study shadow corrosion behavior of Zircaloy under prototypical boiling water reactor conditions. Zircaloy specimens were exposed in-core and near-core in close proximity to a variety of other materials. This program is under the direction of Dr. Gordon Kohse and Professor Ronald Ballinger of the Nuclear Engineering Department and is funded by ABB Nuclear of Sweden. Evaluation of the first set of irradiated specimens is about to begin and a second in-core run is in the planning stage.

Reactor Engineering

Dr. Bernard continued to teach course 22.921, Reactor Dynamics and Control, and to offer review classes on engineering fundamentals for NED students in the radiological sciences. Both activities make use of the reactor for illustrating theoretical concepts. The program on the digital control of nuclear reactors resumed with thesis activity in the area of automated diagnostics.


The relicensing of the MITR with a concomitant upgrade in power is in progress. It was previously identified that the MITR could operate at a maximum power of 6-7 MW with the existing heat removal equipment. A decision was subsequently made to submit the licensing documents for a power increase from 5 MW to 6 MW. On 8 July 1999, a formal application was submitted to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to relicense the reactor for an additional twenty years and to upgrade the power level to 6 MW. The relicensing package included a complete rewrite of the Safety Analysis Report and the Technical Specifications. The NRC has authorized the continued operation of the MITR pending its review of the application. This process could require several years. In conjunction with the relicensing effort, reactor systems are being upgraded. Both the internal and the environmental radiation monitors were replaced in 1998. The cooling tower and secondary piping will be replaced in 1999.


In nuclear medicine, the development and/or continuing production of radioisotopes for use by researchers at hospitals and other universities included investigations using track etching techniques by Dr. David Slaughter of the University of Utah to determine the uptake pattern of heavy metals by humans as well as the environment, and evaluation of copper and gold for arthritis treatments by Dr. Alan B. Packard of Children's Hospital.

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. Examples include Dr. Alan P. Fleer of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute who used irradiation to determine natural actinides and plutonium in marine sediments and Captain Daniel J. Robbins of the McClellan Air Force Base who is investigating calibration of ultra-sensitive neutron monitoring devices by thermal neutron fission of uranium foils.

Whereas most of the 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 MIT NRL 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, 400 students and 50 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 Keeler 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 Beth Israel - Deaconess 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 time-of-flight and Bragg angle measurements by Professor Martin Posner's group at the University of Massachusetts.

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 (Course#603).


A major project to neutron transmutation dope semiconductor grade silicon single crystals continued for a successful sixth year. Approximately 12 metric tons of Si crystals were accurately irradiated in shielded, automated irradiation facilities at the MITR. 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 36 there are currently five 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. Several women are currently in training to become licensed reactor operators.


The MIT Reactor completed its 41st year of operation, its 25th since the 1974—75 shutdown for upgrading and overhaul. The reactor operated continuously (seven days per week) to support major experiments. On average, the MIT Reactor was operated 102 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 452,500 megawatt-hours as of June 30, 1999. The MITR-I generated 250,445 MW in the sixteen years from 1958 to 1974.

To summarize briefly the reactor was well utilized during the year, although still more experiments and irradiations can be accommodated because of the number and versatility of the many experimental facilities. The number of specimen irradiations was 350. There were 35 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 15 and 30 per year, respectively. A total of 1144 people toured the MIT Research Reactor from July 1, 1998 through June 30, 1999.

Other highlights for 1999 were that Dr. Bernard served as Chairman of the National Organization of Test, Research, and Training Reactors (TRTR) and the NRL hosted the annual meeting of that organization. Dr. Bernard continued to be active in the American Nuclear Society and was elected to that organization's Board of Directors. He also authored an article on light-water reactor control systems for the Encyclopedia of Electrical and Electronics Engineering, published by John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

John A. Bernard

MIT Reports to the President 1998-99