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Saturday, May 27, 2006

Nuclear Research Reactor

Photograph of a TRIGA reactor. A clever design that has the ability to be 'pulsed' That is to survive a Chernobyl-type positive reactivity insertion without catastrophic failure.

My first job after leaving the US Navy was with General Atomics, where I received Nuclear Reactor Operator license for two small research reactors. One was rated at 1.5 MW thermal and the other was 250KW thermal. I was exposed to a lot of fascinating research (as well as some long-lived isotopes, hahaha) at GA. There is a Tokamak fusion reactor there, an electron linear accelerator, a hot cell for examining irradiated nuclear fuel, isotope separation, and they were doing cool star wars research. Lots of wonderful James Bond stuff! My trivial part in the star wars debacle was the testing of in-core thermionic converters for orbital power plants. These orbital nuclear reactors would then supply power to attached pulsed lasers and rail guns to disable incoming nuclear warheads from the USSR.

Of minor interest is that there was a piggyback program running alongside the thermionic DOE sponsored one. This one was a commercial product: Topaz irradiation. Topaz color enhancement is also the reason GA purchased and installed the 200 MeV electron accelerator. There's much more interesting stuff to post about my time at General Atomics, but I'll save that for a later date!

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