MIT Reports to the President 1997-98


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, 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 the relicensing of the MIT Research Reactor (MITR) and a possible power upgrade. 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.

An especially noteworthy development 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 now in progress for both melanoma and glioblastoma multiforme (brain cancer).


The prompt gamma neutron activation analysis facility was used both for research and in support of the neutron capture therapy clinical trials. A neutron reflectometry system that was designed by a faculty team headed by Professor X.-L. Zhou (Department of Nuclear Engineering) is now being installed.


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. The current emphasis is on determining the chemical composition of lavas erupted from upwelling mantle plumes which are postulated to be an important part of the mantle convection cycle. Current research is focused on lavas erupted during the 115 million year history of the Kerguelen mantle plume which has contributed to forming the oceanic crust of the eastern Indian Ocean. The JOIDES Resolution, the research ship used in the Ocean Drilling Program will be used to acquire the oldest, perhaps 115 million years, lavas associated with this mantle plume. This research complements our efforts in the ongoing Hawaiian Scientific Drilling Program which is focused on the Hawaiian plume. This program is entering Phase 2 of a drilling project which will recover lavas erupted during the 1 million year growth of a Hawaiian volcano.

Dr. Ilhan Olmez continued a major attempt to increase the utilization of NRL by making its 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 established with several MIT research laboratories as well as with other educational and research institutions including: University of Miami, University of Southern California, Harvard, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Brandeis University, and the California Institute of Technology.

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 faculty in both the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Department of Chemical Engineering.

Dr. Olmez has been actively engaged in a number of environmental research projects. A two year grant to study toxic substances from coal combustion and a three year grant to determine the sources and the effects of fine particles on visibility in the Eastern United States continued, supported through the Department of Energy and the Electric Power Research Institute. Course 22.78, Nuclear Techniques in Environmental Analysis, was offered by Dr. Olmez and Professor Frederick A. Frey.

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 (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; two years later she is disease free in the irradiated areas.

Phase One studies of brain cancer, brain metastases of melanoma and glioblastoma multiforme were initiated. Thirteen volunteer subjects have been irradiated, and the fourth dose level of 1280 RBE-cGy has been reached. One serious adverse reaction was observed at one of the lower dose levels. It is unclear if this was due to the BNCT irradiation. Two of the eight 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 would 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.

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. Seven MIT graduate students and one undergraduate student 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 and a specially designed laboratory/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 taught course 22.581, Introduction to Health Physics. This course uses the MIT Research Reactor to provide practical examples of health physics issues.


No experiments were done under this program during the past year. However, Professor Ronald Ballinger (NED) and Dr. Gordon E. Kohse (NRL) are planning continued studies.


Use of the multiple specimen constant load test facility continued to study the urgent problem of core shroud cracking in boiling water reactors. Several thousand hours of testing were completed with a variety of materials including actual core shroud weld material from a U.S. reactor that was built but never operated. The system by which the identity of a broken specimen can be determined using cross-head displacement data was successfully demonstrated. This program is under the direction of Dr. Gordon Kohse of the NRL and Professor Ronald Ballinger of the Nuclear Engineering Department and is funded by the Tokyo Electric Power Company and the Electric Power Research Institute.


The relicensing of the MITR with a concomitant upgrade in power is in progress. During the past year, it was identified that the MITR can operate at a maximum power of 6-7 MW with the existing equipment. A decision was subsequently made to submit the licensing documents for a power increase from 5 MW to 6-7 MW. Neutronic and thermal hydraulic analyses were completed as well as several chapters of the new Safety Analysis Report. Also, system diagrams for the MITR are being updated and stored digitally.


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) 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; 3) evaluation of copper and gold for arthritis treatments by Dr. Alan B. Packard of Children's Hospital; and 4) 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. 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), 8 students, 3 visits.


A major project to neutron transmutation dope semiconductor grade silicon single crystals continued for a successful fifth 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 39 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 40th year of operation, its 24th 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 operated continuously (seven days per week) to support major experiments. On average, the MIT Reactor was operated 114 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 426,100 megawatt-hours as of June 30, 1997. 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 number of specimen irradiations was 640. There were 25 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 1272 people toured the MIT Research Reactor from July 1, 1997 through June 30, 1998.

John A. Bernard

MIT Reports to the President 1997-98