Sandia LabNews

Sandia research reactor back on line after upgrades

Research reactor back on line after upgrades

A newly upgraded Annular Core Research Reactor (ACRR) — Sandia’s largest research reactor — is up and running in Area 5, ready to accommodate researchers’ requests from across the Labs wanting to use the ACRR for hundreds of experiments.

The ACRR has been out of operation for about six months while the upgrades were made.

"We made major upgrades in every area of the rod control and reactor console (RC/RC) systems," says Danny Beets (6431), project lead. "We put in 15 new control rod drives as well as new computers, going from 386s and 486s to Pentium-IIIs. We installed an Ethernet communication system and went from a DOS computer operating system to WIN2000."

They upgraded the programming language and rod control interface. In addition, the reactor console area, which monitors the reactor, was completely modernized. Old and obsolete computers and data acquisition equipment were replaced with new equipment.

Not replaced were the actual reactor components below the waterline, including fuel elements and control rods.

Ron Farmer (6431), facility supervisor, says the upgrades were necessary to ensure a reliable reactor. The reactor has had three major upgrades in its 40-year history, the most recent in the mid-1990s.

"Researchers from throughout the Labs rely on the ACRR to test components in harsh radiation environments," Ron says. "We have to provide them with a reliable facility they can count on when doing their experiments."

The word is apparently out that the ACRR will soon be open for business. Researchers have already requested 508 days of experiment time — more time than can be produced this year.

Danny notes that initially the project wasn’t meant to be so large. Some 80 percent of the upgrade wasn’t "part of the original thought process," he says.

"It made sense to upgrade everything at once instead of doing it piece by piece. So we put everything we thought we needed in the proposal," Danny says. "We were able to get everything we asked for."

The project, which moved on an accelerated schedule, started in April 2001 with the award of the construction contract to Automation Concepts Incorporated (ACI) of Albuquerque. Testing of the new RC/RC systems at ACI was completed by June 2002 and installed at ACRR by September 2002. Installation testing was completed on Nov. 2, 2002, followed by a Sandia/DOE Readiness Assessment conducted the first week of December 2002. The DOE letter authorizing operation to test the new equipment was written on Dec. 18, 2002. The next day the reactor went critical for the first time in more than six months and on Jan. 7, 2003, the ACRR was operated at 100 percent. Everyone working in Tech Area 5, emphasizing a coordinated team effort, contributed to the ACRR restart effort.

"Our turnaround was really fast. And during our DOE Readiness Assessment, we received good reviews," Danny says. "There were no Findings or Concerns, only three Observations, and several Noteworthy Practices."

During the last couple of weeks Ron and his team have been conducting test pulses to make sure the reactor is operating as it should. They expect to have the reactor available for customer use in early February.

The RC/RC systems were built and tested at ACI before being shipped to Sandia. Sandia reactor operators were trained on the new equipment at ACI. That allowed the reactor to continue operating while the new rod control and reactor console systems were built and tested, reducing down time.

Working as a subcontractor to ACI was Neal Pederson, who owns VI Control Systems. The company wrote all the LabVIEW code for the reactor console computers.

In late January Senior VP Tom Hunter (9000) and VP Bob Eagan (6000) toured the reactor site and had some good things to say about it.

"Everyone in Tech Area 5 should be proud of this upgrade," Bob says. "This was particularly noteworthy because of the intense schedule, incredibly successful readiness assessment, and the great finished product."

Many of the researchers using the reactor will come from the Defense Programs and Nuclear Weapons Programs Div. 9000, which Tom heads. He notes that the nuclear weapons program relies on the reactor for testing.