UIHistories Project: A History of the University of Illinois by Kalev Leetaru
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Nuclear Reactor Laboratory

The University of Illinois joined the elite ranks of campuses with research reactors when it dedicated its Nuclear Reactor Laboratory on October 21, 1960. The TRIGA Mark II reactor was developed by General Dynamics Corporation's General Atomic Division, and the building was designed by Richardson, Severns, Scheeler and Associates, with engineering consulting by Clark, Daily, and Dietz. [1]

The reactor building is 44 feet by 80 feet and 37 feet tall. A 16-foot deep shield surrounds the reactor core, with a water core surrounded by a 7 radial foot concrete sheath weighing more than 1 million pounds. [2] The original reactor core was capable of 30-40ms pulses of 1000 megawatts, with a 100 kW licensed nominal operating power, [3] but a later upgrade in 1969 allowed the reactor to reach peaks of up to 6000 megawatts. [4]

The reactor was extremely popular, being used primarily "for the training of students in nuclear engineering", but also as an "interdisciplinary facility", with the "Departments of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, Physiology and Biophysics, Physics and various other engineering departments" all competing for time in the facility, resulting "in unduly long operating hours and extreme congestion of equipment". In 1968, the University upgraded the reactor, increasing its power "by a factor of 10". This upgrade was funded by the University, the National Science Foundation, and the Atomic Energy Commission. Since its founding in 1958, the University's nuclear engineering program had "grown to the point where it [was] equaled in prestige only by that at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Michigan, and the University of California (Berkeley)". An addition to the reactor was requested to meet these increased demands, with a $1,447,300 facility to add 12,160 additional square feet to the reactor. [5]

In August 2004, the University began decommissioning the reactor, which had been shut down in 1998. [6]




[1] University of Illinois Archives, Building and Statue Dedication Programs: RS 2/0/808
[2] University of Illinois Archives, Building and Statue Dedication Programs: RS 2/0/808
[3] University of Illinois Archives, Building and Statue Dedication Programs: RS 2/0/808
[4] Rich Holme, Reactor Director
[5] Board of Trustees Proceedings, June 19, 1968
[6] "UI removing radioactive material from research lab" - News-Gazette - 8/10/2004
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