Source: Knoxville News Sentinel | Frank Munger | April 13, 2015

hfir-ornlOak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) High Flux Isotope Reactor officially became a part of nuclear lore Monday when it was designated a Nuclear Historic Landmark — joining an elite list that includes Chicago Pile-1 at Stagg Field, the world’s first nuclear reactor.

Unlike most of its 75 cohorts on the list, the 50-year-old High Flux Isotope Reactor not only has an operating past; it also has a future.

“I believe in my heart of hearts it’s got another 50 years in it,” Tim Powers, director of ORNL’s Research Reactors Division, said during ceremonies at the reactor complex east of the laboratory.

The multipurpose Oak Ridge reactor was overhauled in 2007, refurbishing or replacing virtually all its major parts except the pressure vessel and adding significant new components — including a Cold Source that slows the neutrons for special types of experiments — to enhance the overall capabilities.

Powers said he believes the reactor’s best years are yet to come.

Michaele C. Brady Raap, president of the American Nuclear Society, was on hand Monday to present ORNL Director Thom Mason with a plaque recognizing the reactor’s 50th anniversary and designation as a Nuclear Historic Landmark. She later toured the nuclear facilities with Mason and others.

A series of speakers talked about the reactor’s history and unique contributions.

Jim Roberto, an associate lab director at ORNL, said a neutron-rich reactor capable of producing milligram quantities of newly discovered transuranium elements — berkelium, californium and einsteinium — was a 1950s vision of Glenn Seaborg, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (and Nobel Laureate and discoverer of plutonium). Support for such a reactor was bolstered by the Cold War news that the Soviet Union was rapidly developing such a reactor.

A competition among three national labs ensued, and ORNL’s proposal for a new $12 million research reactor came out on top. Construction began in the early 1960s, and the reactor first went critical in 1965.

Isotope production was the priority mission early on — and remains an important contribution to medicine, industry and research — but applying the highly concentrated streams of neutrons for experiments that explore the makeup and behavior of materials has become HFIR’s signature role.