The AGN-201M teaching reactor in the nuclear engineering department is once again fully operational. Long-awaited upgrades were completed over the summer, and the reactor has attained its full operational power of 5W.
"The AGN is a wonderful teaching tool," said Professor Dan Reece. "Its simplicity and accessibility make it a worthy addition to our department."
Constructed/assembled in 1957, the AGN became the cornerstone for the evolution of the largest nuclear engineering department in the United States. Over the years, replacement parts such as vacuum tubes became obsolete due to the difficulty in finding theses replacement parts and became necessary to upgrade the reactor's entire instrumentation panel and circuitry.
A plan for the upgrades was formulated in the late 1990's and after the project experienced several delays, Dr. Dan Reece, professor and director of the Nuclear Science Center took command of the project in late 2008. Through his guidance and help of the late Tom Fisher, the updating of the AGN reactor was back on course. In the fall of 2009, the department added Chris Crouch as reactor supervisor who will oversee the daily operations of the reactor.
Once the equipment and instrumentation upgrades were complete, the team began the process of inspections and tests in accordance with regulations from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
"It's not a quick process," said Crouch. "Every change, every step is documented with the NRC in order to ensure regulatory requirements have been met."
The university's nuclear engineering department is the only university with two nuclear reactors, the other a 1-MW TRIGA reactor located at the NSC.
Having two reactors provides "Aggie Nukes" several distinct advantages. Due to the size of the department, it allows more "hands on" opportunities for the students as it is used in conjunction with the NSC for NUEN 405 – Nuclear Engineering Experiments. One enormous benefit of the AGN is that because of its design, experiments follow the equations exactly as the professor had presented them to the students.
"It is a wonderful first step since the theories and operations match one for one," said Reece.
Also, having multiple reactors provides students a look at the unique operating characteristics of two different types of reactors. And, in addition to being a neutron source for the other laboratories located in the Zachry Engineering Center, two reactors gives more time for student projects and thesis research.
The AGN will provide an opportunity for nuclear engineering students to become "licensed nuclear reactor operators," with hopes that this will eventually be available to students in other disciplines. Reece cited Reed College, a liberal arts college in Oregon, as a model for this goal. The college's TRIGA Mark I is a research reactor operated primarily by its undergraduate students.
"What a wonderful opportunity to fascinate students outside of engineering," Reece said. "I can't think of better spokespersons for all things nuclear."
Built in the 1950s, AGN reactors were primarily created as teaching tools to train the "first crop" of nuclear engineers. Approximately 60 of the models went to universities, where only three remain in operation: Texas A&M University, University of New Mexico and Idaho State University.
Note: The passing of Tom Fisher in July 2010 is a loss for the Nuclear Science Center as well as the university and TEES. His dedication, knowledge and experience was second to none. Fisher designed the new console of the AGN and had the ability to build and repair everything from pumps to circuitry. He will be missed.