Breazeale Nuclear Reactor to host 60th anniversary open house

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The Penn State Breazeale Nuclear Reactor (PSBR) is holding an open house Aug. 18 to celebrate 60 years in operation. The PSBR, housed in the Radiation Science and Engineering Center (RSEC), is the longest operating research reactor in the United States. It is the only research reactor in Pennsylvania and one of only 31 licensed research reactors in the U.S. The open house includes public tours as well as an anniversary program highlighting the history, accomplishments, and future of the reactor.

The open house and anniversary program are open to the community. Tours of the RSEC will run from 9 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. The anniversary program will be held in 100 Thomas Building from 3 – 4:30 p.m. Visit the anniversary website for additional information.

Penn State was one of the first universities to take advantage of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace program. Eric A. Walker, then-dean of engineering and architecture, proposed the University construct a reactor for research and education purposes. Penn State President Milton Eisenhower (brother of President Eisenhower) enthusiastically supported this endeavor. On July 8, 1955, the Penn State Reactor received the first research reactor license issued by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.

The facility has a long history of providing nuclear science and engineering outreach activities to the local, national and international communities. In 1956, Penn State was one of only two universities established as an International School of Nuclear Science and Engineering. As part of this program, a total of 175 scientists and engineers from 39 countries were educated at Penn State from 1956 to 1959. The PSBR also educated and trained more than 900 reactor operators for nuclear power plants from the mid 1960s to the 1990s.

In the late 1960s the Pennsylvania Department of Education approached the newly formed Penn State Department of Nuclear Engineering to instruct and provide certification for high school teachers interested in teaching nuclear science and technology as a part of their science curricula. And in the 1980s Penn State developed a course called Exploring the Nuclear Option to educate teachers near Three Mile Island about nuclear energy and applications.

Today, the Breazeale Nuclear Reactor educates more than 3,000 visitors a year about the benefits of nuclear technology. These groups range from K-12 students, college students, and teachers and educators, to scientists and government officials. Each year, the facility conducts badge workshops for Boy and Girl Scout troops.

The RSEC facilities, including the PSBR, are the cornerstone of the nuclear engineering program at Penn State, providing a safe and secure environment for nuclear research and teaching. All laboratory classes for undergraduate and graduate nuclear engineering students are held at the RSEC. In addition, the RSEC supports courses for eight different colleges across Penn State.

“Nuclear applications are incredibly diverse and are relevant in numerous fields of science and engineering,” said Kenan Ünlü, director of the RSEC and professor of nuclear engineering. “Many people don’t realize that nuclear technology touches their life in so many ways.”

Research at the RSEC reflects these diverse applications. A few of the ongoing research projects include soft error testing in semiconductor memories for dependable computing; radioisotope production for medical diagnostics and treatment research; neutron activation analysis for determining trace materials in dated tree rings and archaeological and industrial materials for identifying the impact of environmental effects and historical evolutions; neutron imaging for nondestructively testing critical components for industry and government agencies; and gamma-ray irradiation for medical sterilization, food irradiation and genetic alteration in plants.

The nuclear reactor pool at the Breazeale Nuclear Reactor.  Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated July 27, 2015