Mission and History

Vision

Our vision is to be the premiere center in safely supporting nuclear research and training.

Mission

We provide high level research and training to all users through safe application of an on-site training reactor, various other unique research and engineering tools, and innovative, knowledgeable, and experienced personnel. 

HistoryPhoto of Nuclear Science Center Control Room from 1968

Initial planning for the Texas A&M University Nuclear Science Center began in 1957, as the university was embarking on a program of expanding graduate education and research programs. University officials recognized that a research reactor that could serve many departments and support a large variety of research activities would significantly contribute to this development.

The application for a construction permit and operating license was submitted in March 1958, along with a hazards summary report. The construction permit was issued in August 1959 and then converted to an operating license that authorized operation of a MTR swimming-pool-type reactor at 100 kilowatts.

The reactor was first taken critical on December 18, 1961. Since its establishment, use of our facility has increased steadily, and it presently supports an active nuclear research program. Our facility serves many campus departments, other universities and colleges, several city and state agencies, and other industrial and research organizations.

In 1965, only three years after initial reactor operations, we implemented a comprehensive program to upgrade our facilities. In December 1965, proposals were submitted to the National Science Foundation and the Atomic Energy Commission for funds to support a long-range expansion program.

The expansion of the facility included four separate phases:

Phase I -- Pool Modification and Liner.The large reactor pool was modified by installing a multipurpose dry irradiation room. This facility allows high exposure of large objects to intense radiation from the reactor core. A permanent stainless steel liner was installed as part of the pool modification to prevent corrosion over the lifetime of the facility.

Phase II -- Cooling System. To allow steady-state operation at power levels up to 1 megawatt, a cooling system was provided for the reactor. The 1-megawatt reactor power was needed to improve a number of existing research programs and encourage initiation of new projects.

Phase III -- Conversion of the Reactor Core. In 1968, the reactor core was converted to employ Standard TRIGA fuel elements, and on July 31, 1968, an amended facility license allowed the NSC reactor to be operated at a maximum steady state power level of 1 megawatts and pulsing up to $3.00 reactivity insertion. The inherent safety of the TRIGA fuel allowed increased flexibility and utilization of the reactor. Pulsing was possible because of the prompt negative temperature coefficient of reactivity and the integrity of TRIGA fuel at the peak temperature attained.

In July 1975, the maximum pulse reactivity insertion was increased to $2.70 and the full FLIP TRIGA core was loaded in 1979.

Present NSC reactor operation utilizes a full TRIGA core loading with low enriched UZrH fuel in U-235. The limitation on reactivity insertion for pulsing was also lowered to $1.90. Various research and analysis programs have been conducted for a potential power level uprate in operation to 1.5 MW. 

Phase IV -- Laboratory Building. The original research space within the Nuclear Science Center was quite limited. A laboratory building was constructed which adequately accommodates the present research load and allows for anticipated expansion of programs.

Nuclear Scientce Center photo from 1960s

From its initiation, the plan covered a period of 3.5 years to completion in mid-1969. The plan not only changed the initial facility physical plant but also established a new reactor program.

Operating experience with the standard TRIGA fuel revealed a high fuel burn up rate resulting in fuel additions to maintain sufficient reactivity. Core life was extended by modification of the reactor grid plate in late 1970 to provide for the installation of fuel followed control rods. This increased the core life by approximately 1.5 years. Subsequent operation, however, eventually required the addition to the core of all the standard fuel at hand. This seriously reduced the fluxes that were available for irradiation. The solution to this problem was the initiation of a program to provide a core loading utilizing TRIGA FLIP (Fuel Life Improvement Program) fuel. In June 1973, the NSC reactor was licensed to operate Standard, Mixed or FLIP TRIGA cores. The mixed cores were licensed to operate at a maximum steady state power of 1 megawatt with maximum pulse reactivity insertion of $2.00. In July 1973, the first NSC reactor mixed TRIGA core containing 35 FLIP and 63 Standard elements was placed into service. In July 1975, the maximum pulse reactivity insertion was increased to $2.70.

Present NSC reactor operation utilizes a full FLIP TRIGA core loading with U-ZrH fuel enriched 70% in U-235. The full FLIP core was loaded in 1979. Various research and analysis programs have been conducted for potential power level upgrade operation to 1.5 MW. The limitation on reactivity insertion for pulsing is now set at $2.00.