Thursday, November 01, 2007

Nuclear Reactor

Yesterday (Halloween) I had a lab for my Nuclear Engineering class. This lab was especially interesting because we were finally able to go in and see the reactor. It's an interesting experience because you can stand right at the edge of the reactor and look down through a deep pool (probably around 20 feet) of water to see the reactors core. The reactor at the University of Utah is a TRIGA reactor, which is a very common installation for research facilities. While the reactor is licensed to run at 100kW, it has no way of actually producing any power and all of the energy is transferred directly into the water as heat. For this lab we were only verifying the effects of control rods in the core, but for the next lab the reactor will be powered up to a level that the core will actually begin to glow with radioactivity (like in the picture above). That will be interesting.

As a side note, students that have recently visited Moab or other areas in Southern Utah are often not allowed in the reactor because they emit too much radioactivity. Just by walking around on the red rock in Southern Utah can cause the Geiger counters to not function properly - and, there are piles of "yellowcake" just sitting around near the old mines as well. The Geiger counters can even detect if you ate bananas for breakfast. Apparently some bananas are a shade radioactive...

1 comment:

Clark said...

It's the potassium. Really. There is a limited amount of naturally occurring potassium 40 around. (About 0.0117% according to wikipedia.) K40 decays into both Ar40 and Ca40 and has a half life of 1.2 billion years, give or take a few. It is often used to date older rocks.