- [Speaker] One of the highest powered
nuclear research reactors in the U.S.
exists (ding) right here, at MIT.
So, what's it like inside?
(whistling) (door opening)
- [Guest] Hi, I'm here for the tour?
- Awesome, let's get you signed in.
(ding) (whistling) (upbeat strumming)
Take this. - [Guest] What is this?
(ding) - It's a dosimeter.
- [Guest] Cool, okay thanks. - No problem.
- Sarah, they'll all set.
- Hey! - [Guest] Hey Sarah.
(whistling) (door opening) (ding)
(switch flipping) - [Guest] Wait, what's that?
- Oh, that's my light that I turn on
to let everybody know that I'm in the lab.
- [Guest] Oh cool, okay.
- So what you might not realize
is that the reactor has very specialized parts
and if something breaks,
or if something needs to be replaced
as preventative maintenance,
we can't just get a catalog and order a new part.
We have to actually rebuild it from scratch.
So this is why we need machine shops here on site.
- [Guest] So this is where you do that.
- [Sarah] Yes. - [Guest] Hi P.J.
- Hi. (ding) (upbeat music)
- I got started when I was a freshman in undergrad.
(laughs lightly) I was hired
as a part-time student operator,
and I stayed through all my years at MIT
and through grad school at MIT,
and now I work full-time here.
Alright, let's keep going. - [Guest] Okay.
(whistling) (guitar strumming)
- [Guest] Why is there this big imposing door?
- So that the containment building is airtight.
And this way, any air that is going to leave the building
goes past detectors and filters
to make sure that we're not putting radioactive material
into the atmosphere in Cambridge.
- [Guest] So right now we are trapped- (equipment operating)
- No. (banging)
- [Guest] Okay, so this is where the power is made, right?
- No, this is a research reactor.
So we don't actually generate any electricity.
We make lots of neutrons which we use for experiments.
And actually we're the second highest power level
research reactor on a University campus in the U.S.
- [Guest] How cool- - Yeah-
- [Guest] How come it's so noisy in here?
- We have a lot of instrumentation running around us.
We have some radiation detectors.
So there's an air monitor here,
and we also have an area monitor on the wall up there,
and these help us to know
what the radiation level is around us as we work,
because our body has no way of sensing radiation.
It's not something that we can detect as human beings,
so we have to have instrumentation to help us out.
- [Guest] How much is that?
What does the 0.1 mean?
- So, it says 0.1 right now
and that's the reading in millirem/hr,
which is a unit of radiation per unit time
and to put things in perspective
you get about one millirem per day living in Boston
from background radiation from space,
and from granite rock in the ground.
- [Guest] Let me get this right.
We're standing 14 feet away
from the core of a nuclear reactor,
and the amount of radiation we're getting
is the same as if we were standing
on the street in Cambridge. - [Sarah] Correct.
- [Guest] How is that possible?
- Concrete shielding, and I'll show you.
So this is the outside of the shielding
around the reactor core.
- [Guest] This big cylinder of blue thing here?
- Yeah, this light blue cylinder that you see here.
And it's about five and a half feet
thick concrete shielding, that's heavy dense concrete,
so it's got metal punchings in it as well as sand and water.
That makes it better for absorbing radiation.
- [Guest] So it's not regular concrete.
- Yeah, it's special concrete.
- [Guest] Nothing is regular in a nuclear reactor.
- No. (light laughter)
And that's where the nuclear reactions are taking place.
So the fuel is loaded into the reactor core,
and the Uranium 235 atoms are splitting,
which releases some neutrons,
and those get absorbed by other Uranium 235 atoms
which split and release more neutrons.
So all the neutrons that we use come from the core here.
Hey Paul. - Hey Sarah. (ding)
- [Guest] So what's Paul doing Sarah?
- Paul's gonna load some silicon
into our silicon and radiation facility. (ding)
So one of the things that we do here
at the reactor is we irradiate silicon,
to be used as semi-conductors.
So silicon by itself is not a good conductor.
(ding) (upbeat tones)
But by irradiating it with neutrons in our reactor
we can change some of the silicon atoms to phosphorous atoms
which is called doping.
We dope the silicon material
so that it has a distribution of impurities
that cause it to become a semi-conductor.
So semi-conductors can be used
in all kinds of electronic applications,
but the way that we irradiate silicon here
means that we can be very precise.
So the silicon that we produce here
ends up in very critical applications
such as airplanes and the power grid.
Let's go see the reactor tub. - [Guest] Okay let's go.
(upbeat music tones)
So this morning we're installing the new salt experiment
that we've been working on for several months,
and this experiment will stay in the core
for 1,000 hours to be irradiated by neutrons.
- [Guest] Let's go.
This is the place where the tour is normally stopped.
- Yes, that's right.
- [Guest] And you're gonna let me go past it.
- Just you.
- [Guest] So what do I need to wear?
- So I'll show you what to do. - [Guest] Okay.
You need to grab some rubber booties
and put them on your shoes.
- [Guest] Now I step over here?
- Yep. - [Guest] Okay?
My other shoe is still back here.
- Then I get the other one? - Yep.
Anyone, there not pairs.
(upbeat music tones)
So we duck tape our pockets closed
on the reactor tub area,
because that way we can't be tempted
to put objects in our pockets
and lean over the core and have them fall out.
- [Guest] You don't want stuff to fall into the core.
- No, it's very difficult to fish things out of the core
and it could damage the fuel,
which is a risk that we just don't want to take.
- [Guest] Has anything ever fallen into the core?
Have you ever dropped anything in the core?
- I have not dropped anything in the core.
Do you mind if I put this on you?
- [Guest] Yep, go for it. (mysterious tones)
- [Guest] So may I ask- (mutual mild laughter)
can I take a peak in the core?
- Yes, you can take a peak in the core.
- [Worker] It should be closed
when the grid is being closed.
- [Sarah] The core is shaped like a hexagon,
and it's made up of 27 diamond shapes
that fit together to make a hexagon.
And each of those diamond shapes is a fuel element.
One of those diamonds is gonna hold a cylinder,
which we're using to hold a special salt
that could be used in the future
to cool down nuclear reactors.
The reactor is a really good tool for testing materials,
because the core itself is an extremely harsh environment
that has very high levels of radiation
and we can heat the experiment to really high temperatures
to really stress-test the material.
- [Guest] So we're standing five feet away
from an open nuclear reactor core?
How are we not dead?
- [Sarah] So in the core tank we have 10 feet of water
between the top of the fuel and the top of the water level.
And the purpose that that serves
is to shield us from radiation
while we're working in the core,
and it also serves as a reservoir for cooling.
- [Guest] So 10 feet of water is enough
to get the dose from thousands of REM per second
to 10 millirems per hour? - Yep.
- [Guest] That's kind of insane.
- It's amazing.
- [Guest] Why is water so good?
- Water is really good at absorbing neutrons.
- [Guest] Success!
Guess we're ready for the next step.
- [Sarah] So the first thing we do is take our gloves off.
Trash? - [Guest] Can you help me?
- [Sara] Yeah. (upbeat music tones)
So this is one of our neutron beams
that you can use to do experiments outside the reactors.
The neutrons come from the reactor along this beam line
and you place your experiment sample
on the beam line and detectors,
and you can do the experiment here.
So right now Gordon is explaining to his students
how they're going to use the neutron beam
for their lab class, for their experiment.
And so the students can set up their experiment
here on the beam line,
and then they can collect the data
that they need completely remotely from their dorm room.
- [Guest] So students at MIT can actually
do experiments at the reactor?
- Yeah, we have a lot of student participation
here at the reactor.
- [Guest] So what kind of experiments
do students do with the neutron beam?
- So you can calculate the reactor's power level
based on the speed that the neutrons are traveling,
you can figure out how good a material is
at absorbing neutrons,
and you can also figure out the shape of molecules
based on the way neutrons bounce off them.
- [Guest] Hey, that's pretty awesome.
- Alright, next? - [Guest] Yes.
(upbeat techno music)
- This is Mike, and he's one of the experimenters
working in the hot box. - [Guest] Hey Mike.
- Hi. (ding)
- [Guest] What's you workin' on?
- So what we're doing here
is we're disassembling experiments
that have been in the core of the reactor
in this shielded box-
- [Guest] So the hot box is useful
for storing and handling materials
that have come out of the reactor.
They need to go in here
because they're too radioactive to handle close up,
but we can handle them inside here
because of the led shielding in the walls here.
- [Guest] How much radiation are we talking here?
- So the radiation levels inside the hot box
are about 30,000 times higher than they are out here,
and so that's why we have samples
of the materials that we've taken out
of the reactor inside here.
But we can work on them safely using these manipulators.
- [Guest] So what's that sample?
- The sample I've got there is a piece of silicon carbide
with a chromium layer on the inside.
It's a potential replacement for current reactor cladding.
So we're testing it to see how well it does
under radiation and temperature,
and conditions typical for a power reactor.
- [Guest] I have a question for you.
- Sure. - [Guest] Can I try?
- Yes, you can! - [Sarah] Wait, really?
- Oh, of course!
- I never got to do this, what is this?
- Actually, we've got a little poly vial in there.
Sometimes the trickiest thing
is closing the lids on the vials.
(upbeat techno music)
- Cool, thanks Mike, see ya!
(upbeat techno music)
- Hey Tom! - Hey Sarah. (ding)
- Tom's making gold radioactive for medicine.
- [Guest] Wait, what?
- So, we were actually gonna be taking
some gold pellets and using rabbit,
insert them into the reactor
into an area with a lot of neutrons,
and the neutrons will make the gold radioactive.
So when the sample comes out
we can then ship it to a hospital
where they can inject them into a tumor
in order to cause radiation damage
directly to that tumor.
- [Guest] Wait, what about rabbits?
- So they're not real rabbits.
We have these poly sample holders
where we put the gold directly into.
- [Guest] So you put the gold in the rabbit and then-
- So the rabbit would go from where we inserted it,
through this tube and into the reactor.
And then when it's finished it will come down the tube
and out into our shielded hot cell.
So when the material is radioactive,
the radiation is all contained
inside of our shielded area to work with.
- Okay, see you Tom.
Let's go to the next stop. - [Guest] Okay.
(whistling) (upbeat strumming)
- So we're about to enter the control room,
and the control panel is on the right,
so please try to keep on the left.
- [Guest] So I shouldn't push any buttons, right?
- No. Hey guys!
So this is the control room,
and the most important thing
in the control room is the operator,
who is Sara right now. (ding)
Sara is actually a student operator
and Paul is the shift supervisor currently.
So right now they're working on the start-up checklist
to start the reactor back up.
- [Guest] Cool!
Weren't you doing something with silicon earlier?
- I was indeed.
- [Guest] Have you finished? - I finished that-
- [Guest] And now you're here. - Correct.
- [Guest] Isn't it weird how one person
can move from one place to another?
Do you have a favorite button? - Yes.
- Which one? (mild laughter) - This one.
This is the major scram button,
which I've only ever pressed during testing.
Never actually had to make a scram.
It's one of our emergency shut down buttons
and it automatically drops all the control blades in
and it isolates our ventilation
in case something were to get out.
But I just like it because it's the big,
stereotypical red button in the reactor.
- [Guest] Do you know what every single one
of all of these buttons do?
- Yes, some of the experimental ones...
I wasn't current in my training
'cause I don't have to run the experiments
but all of the regular operations buttons.
- [Guest] What is high-temp D20 reflector cleanup system?
- So the reflector system with heavy water
has a cleanup loop where it flows through an iron column,
and if the water gets above 50 degrees
it could potentially damage the resin in the iron column
so that alarm will go off
to tell you that you need to cool it down
or you need to bypass it.
- [Guest] What does DP-3 30 PSIG mean?
- So that's one of our pressure gages
for our heavy water system, that's what the D means.
It tells you reflector system, the P is the pressure,
and then 3 is just the number to marking it.
- [Guest] What's this gage do?
- This is for auto control.
So using this gage here, you can set your auto control
to tell the reactor this is the power I wanna stay at,
and this gives you the percent deviation.
So if you're too high or low that needle will tell you.
You wanna keep it at zero.
- [Guest] What's this knob?
- So we have we have six different shim blades,
and you can only move one at a time.
So this is to select which one you want.
So right now three is selected.
- [Guest] Okay? - You can turn it
and you can pick a different blade,
whichever one you wanna move.
- [Guest] What is this?
- This is the official console clock.
- [Guest] So you're a student you said?
- I am a student.
- [Guest] Okay, what year are you?
- I am a sophomore.
- [Guest] So you're a sophomore at MIT?
- Yes. - [Guest] And you are running
a nuclear reactor. - Yes.
- [Guest] That's pretty freakin' awesome.
So what kind of training do you have to go through
to be able to sit at this console?
- So there's a lot of studying
through systems manuals, technical specifications,
all the alarms and procedures,
and then there's hands-on training
where you come and you sit training watches,
and you'll perform practice start-ups
supervised by your training supervisor.
- [Guest] Okay so you passed my test,
but please tell me there's a legit test
you also have to pass right?
- They fly in an examiner
from the NRC and she'll come
and she will watch me do a start-up and a shut-down,
I'll give her a tour around the facility
and she'll ask me a bunch of different questions
about all our systems,
and then she'll give me a written exam
that covers safety procedures, radiation protection,
reactor physics, things like that.
So you have to be prepared in all areas
of your training for the exam?
- [Guest] So did you pass?
- So I have passed the exam
which means I'm licensed by the government
to be able to take shifts and be on console by myself.
To start up the reactor you still need your supervisor
in the control room with you, but I can perform all of
the operation duties in here alone.
- Alright, thanks guys. See ya.
(whistling) (upbeat strumming)
- So this is looking for contamination
that someone may have gotten in containment.
- [Guest] And what happens if it's not clean,
like what do you do if it says "Dirty!"
- Well first it'll tell you where.
So that helps if it's your left toe or your right hand.
It's usually a pretty low level
so to get the contamination off
think of it like dust.
And so we'll use tape, we'll have wipe with hand washing,
and usually it's as simple
as something on a lab coat cuff say,
that somebody has been working
with a contaminated sample,
and we'll just take that lab coat
and put it in our laundry facility and get it clean.
This looks like, you know that thing
from the movie Interstellar?
- Yes, I love Interstellar- - [Guest] You know that-
- [Guest] What's that- - Tars!
- [Guest] Tars- - Yeah-
- [Guest] It looks like Tars. (eerie whistling)
- [Computer] Five, four, three, two, one, clean.
Thank you. - [Guest] Shall we go?
- Yeah, let's go. (whistling) (upbeat strumming)
- So these are both backups,
if that monitor were to malfunction.
- See ya.
- [Guest] Okay, thanks for the tour Sarah.
- No worries, there's one more thing we have to do though,
I have to get your dosimeter back.
- [Guest] Oh right, yes!
Here you go. - Thank you.
So it's reading, still the same.
- [Guest] So okay, so wait a second.
We just spent all day inside a nuclear reactor
and the radiation dose has not changed at all.
- Correct. - [Guest] Amazing.
- Thanks for coming.
- [Guest] Thanks for having us.
- Come back anytime. - [Guest] Thanks.