Australia's new research reactor has reached its full operating power of 20 MWt during commissioning. The reactor will supply radioisotopes for medical and industrial use, while facilitating a new level of nuclear research.
The Open Pool Australian Light-water Reactor (Opal) is owned and operated by the by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (Ansto) at Lucas Heights about 30 km outside of Sydney. Dr Ian Smith, executive director of Ansto, described reaching full power on 3 November as a milestone achievement that took the facility one step closer to full operation and gave him confidence in the planned schedule.
It is hoped that commissioning tests will be completed early in 2007 and Opal will then enter service. At that time, Ansto expects to shut down its current reactor, Hifar, a 10 MWt unit which has been in operation since 1958. Opal's modern design means it will generate three times the neutron flux that Hifar currently does, and will produce four times the amount of the medical isotope molybdenum-99.
The Opal facility features a neutron guide hall in which beams of neutrons produced by the reactor will be used in eight different instruments to conduct materials research. Some of these will be cold (-250 degrees C) beams useful in soft matter research and structural biology which Hifar cannot produce.
It would be possible in future to add another guide hall and more instruments to Opal, extending what Smith already calls one of the two or three best neutron scattering facilities anywhere in the world.
The contract to supply Opal was awarded to Invap of Argentina after a competitive bidding process in July 2000 and the facility was awarded an licence to operate by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (Arpansa) in July 2006 following inspection and cold commissioning tests.
Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation
Australian Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety Authority
WNA's Research Reactors information paper