Nuclear Science Center History

The spring of 1961 saw the birth of the atomic age at WSU, when on March 7, 1961, the WSU Reactor went critical for the first time. Since then, the reactor has been steadily utilized by researchers in both the University and the Inland Northwest.

In 1966, Dr. Harold W. Dodgen oversaw the increase of reactor power ten-fold from the initial 100 kW MTR (materials test reactor) plate-type fueled reactor to a 1,000 kW TRIGA-type reactor with pulsing capability; additionally, a particle accelerator was installed at the WSU Nuclear Science Center the same year. Funds for the conversion were provided by a $135,000 grant from the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and a $100,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). During the period 1967 to 1970 the AEC provided $561,700 in fuel support for the operation of the WSU TRIGA reactor under the AEC University Reactor Fuel Assistance Program.

In 1969 the laboratory space at the WSU Nuclear Science Center was increased from 7,000 square feet to 13,000 square feet with the aid of a $40,000 NSF matching funds grant. In 1975 the WSU TRIGA reactor core was partially upgraded to a new type of long lived reactor fuel (fuel lifetime improvement program fuel, FLIP fuel) with $72,000 in funds from the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. This new FLIP type fuel utilized highly enriched uranium to substantially increase fuel lifetime.

In that same year, the U.S. Congress mandated that all research reactors will be converted to use only low-enriched uranium fuel. The order required all facilities using highly enriched uranium to convert to low-enriched cores, and included the newly upgraded WSU TRIGA reactor. Because of the large number of facilities needing a conversion, and the amount of funding and planning necessary, the WSU Reactor facility would not be converted until 2008. On October 7, 2008 the new, all low-enriched Core 35-A came to power for the first time, and is the core currently in use today.

Now after more than 50 years of continuous service, the WSU TRIGA reactor has just recently completed a license renewal process with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and effective September 30th, 2011 the Facility License R-76 was renewed for another 20 years. The WSU Nuclear Science Center continues to contribute to the University through research programs and graduate education with over 30 thesis projects having been completed at the department in the past 20 years. Direct educational support to the University is provided by undergraduate and graduate courses.