Oregon State starts construction on $4.8M nuclear facility

A $4.8 million facility at Oregon State University is designed to test a new type of

A $4.8 million facility at Oregon State University is designed to test a new type of "super hot" nuclear reactor design.

Oregon State University started construction on a $4.8 million facility for testing a new nuclear technology expected to be safer, more efficient and less waste-producing.

Researchers said the technology could produce electricity, hydrogen to power automobiles, steam to heat a building complex, or provide a cheaper way to desalinate seawater.

Scientists from Oregon State University helped found NuScale Power LLC, which is also working on safer and more efficient nuclear energy production. NuScale's technology features what scientists call "passive safety" and uses small, modular reactors.

The new technology that will be tested at OSU uses a “super-hot” nuclear reactor cooled by helium gas instead of water. The reactor would operate at temperatures above 2,000 degrees – about three times as hot as existing reactors.

“Like any new technology, it will take some time for this to gain acceptance,” said Brian Woods, an associate professor of nuclear engineering at OSU and director of this project, in a press release. “But by the middle of this century I could easily see high-temperature nuclear reactors becoming a major player in energy production around the world.”

The test facility underway in the OSU Radiation Center is about six feet wide and 18 feet tall. The system uses special stainless steel and other alloys to handle the extreme heat, and was built by Harris Thermal Inc. in Newberg.

Field tests are scheduled to begin in April and continue into 2014. The work is being supported by grants from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.


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