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Why nuclear reactors and cold medicine don't mix

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7/20/2010 11:30 AM EDT

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ambhawk
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it was real
ambhawk   9/7/2014 4:55:41 PM
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As my dad was the physycist in the tale -- yes, it was true, 

I remember seeing the train which ran specifically to his lab (perched on the side of the pile) in operation when he ran a special demonstration for an open house day.

to his sorrow, he also had to be the one to finnally shut it down... his poem about that is the dedication plaque in the old control room.  

:)

A

squarewheels
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re: Why nuclear reactors and cold medicine don't mix
squarewheels   9/9/2011 11:32:30 PM
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I can't comment about the reactor operators, but where I went to school, we had a subcritical reactor that required radiation sources to be inserted to get a sustained reaction going.

jpogge
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re: Why nuclear reactors and cold medicine don't mix
jpogge   8/16/2010 2:44:48 PM
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I'll do one better, I walked over and looked. There is no train, at one time they had a sample system that consisted of a chain drive system that may or may not have had guide rails so it it wouldnt twist and become lodged in the graphite blocks. This is not present in the restored graphite reactor, it has been a museum since 1963.. There are 1248 holes across the 24' loading face, uranium slugs were pushed into each hole at regular intervals such that the previously inserted slugs would progress closer to the core , become bombarded by neutrons from neighboring slugs and contribute to the fission reaction, eventually they were pushed out the back where they fell into a cooling pit and were collected to process out the u238 and plutonium from their exposure. The massive reactor just sat and simmerred it would have been difficult to make it go critical as it was designed to run a max fuel slug capacity. The smaller research reactors like HIFR http://neutrons.ornl.gov/facilities/HFIR/in-vessel.shtml usesd target baskets, Schull (nobel winner for neutron research) used chain driven sample holders like I mentioned. Also according to Health Sciences, Our Radialogical safety staff told me theyu never heard of any such incident, nor would workers be given a morphine derivative and sent back to work, the policy has always been to go home and sleep it off, The original reactor had no less than 3 control people who oversaw the slug feed process and monitored the radiation counters, there were no control rods, theu used long poles to push all of the slugs out the back. Our historian mentions that the graphite reactor, because it was continuous simmer mode was slow and iefficient so was not likely to go critical... Second hand story interesting but unlikely given ORNL safety record it is highly unlikely..

prabhakar_deosthali
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re: Why nuclear reactors and cold medicine don't mix
prabhakar_deosthali   8/16/2010 11:46:04 AM
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The story somehow sounds untrue! I have worked as an Engineer in the Atomic Energy Dept of India during the beginning of my career and we studied the Nuclear and Reactor Engineering for a year. If with all the control rods removed from the reactor vessel, the reactor was giving a steady full power then there was no reason for panic by the author. If at all the reactor had to go out of control it would take just a few minutes for the neutron flux to multiply to dangerous proportion, even before the operators could finish their first peg of the booze!

ylshih
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re: Why nuclear reactors and cold medicine don't mix
ylshih   8/5/2010 1:54:51 AM
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This site (http://www.cddc.vt.edu/host/atomic/accident/critical.html) summarizes the 26 nuclear criticality incidents reported in the US from 1943 to 1970. No report of the above ORNL incident.

rcutshaw725
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re: Why nuclear reactors and cold medicine don't mix
rcutshaw725   8/3/2010 2:09:34 PM
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The graphite pile reactor at X-10 was designed and built by physicists, who think differently from engineers. The reason that nobody in the West uses graphite pile reactors is an accident similar to Chernobyl that occurred in England in the 1957 at Windscale. In the case of Chernobyl, the containment vessel was a brick wall. There several Chernobyl reactors in Cuba today.

Robert.Neil_#1
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re: Why nuclear reactors and cold medicine don't mix
Robert.Neil_#1   7/28/2010 2:35:25 PM
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Using a toy train was a short cut, as was lax safety procedures. Short cuts were needed during World War II. It is unfortunate that many such short cuts remained in the '50s and even the 60's. Do not confuse this with the civilian nuclear industry.

Jimelectr
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re: Why nuclear reactors and cold medicine don't mix
Jimelectr   7/28/2010 4:29:14 AM
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I can't vouch for the veracity of the story, but the author (fabricator?) did say that the toy train was used for moving the samples to be irradiated in and out of the reactor, not for the fuel or control rods. If the train were to break down, I suppose the samples would be lost, along with the ability to irradiate more samples, but the safety of the reactor would not be compromised, assuming the means for inserting neutron absorbing or for removing fuel rods were suitably reliable and/or redundant. I'd have sworn somebody commented about the reliability of a toy train for moving fuel or control rods in and out, and that's why I commented, but maybe it was pulled?

RDyer
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re: Why nuclear reactors and cold medicine don't mix
RDyer   7/26/2010 2:26:53 AM
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The model train story is highly suspect. The Graphite Reactor is a cube of carbon 24 feet on a side, with some 1248 square channels through it. It is shielded by high-density concrete walls seven feet thick. Technicians standing outside the reactor can push small aluminum cans of uranium fuel or other materials into the reactor with long rods. Look at the pictures and read the history here at http://www.ornl.gov/info/swords/swords.shtml The holes are too small for the train, in the first place, only about two inches across. The reactor face is pretty far off the ground in the second place. And if you could get a toy train to run into and out of the reactor, you wouldn't want to do it; here's why: The reason you want to irradiate a sample in a nuclear reactor is neutron activation. The neutrons get absorbed by atomic nuclei in the sample material and the sample becomes radioactive. Then you can detect the radiation, and by energy spectroscopy and comparison with extensive experimental data, you can determine the species and percentages of the atoms in your sample. Putting a model train (or any other metal object) into even a relatively low-flux reactor like the X-10 pile, even for a fairly short time, would make it "hot as a pistol" so you sure wouldn't want to run it back to your work station to retrieve your sample. You'd probably want your sample in a lead-shielded cask for radiation safety, not out in the open or in your pocket. The graphite pile reactor was the first successful reactor design, but they don't build 'em like that any more. However, there is one notable graphite reactor that made the news a few years ago, when the operators did just what our story describes: after a low-power run, the operators pulled all the control rods out to allow a rapid power build-up - "all the power they could get" - and they got it. That reactor was in the Ukraine, at Chernobyl!

WKetel
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re: Why nuclear reactors and cold medicine don't mix
WKetel   7/25/2010 9:32:02 PM
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First, using a toy electric train is certainly an interesting way to do it. So let us not play the "but what if" game. I will hold my comments about that game because this is a civil group of professionals. Second, independant of any information about the reactor construction, it does not seem reasonable that a reactor running at an actual "full bore" setting would be stable. My thinking is that it would be heading toward an uncontrolled explosion. BUT I can see the possibility of a reactor being run at some maximum preset limit, a stable point where there was not much margin left. I do wonder about how the electric train parts would behave in an intense radioactive environment, because they did use some inexpensive materials. So my guess is that there is actually a whole lot more to the story, or else it was one of those stories created to find out about leaks in security. They did that a bit back then. Sometimes it was done to lead others astray. Consider the story about carrots that was spread when the Allied Forces first started using radar.

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