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T.F. Nichols, D.M. Beals, M.R. Sternat, R.L. Webb, "Reactor Physics Modeling of Spent Research Reactor Fuel for Technical Nuclear Forensics," Proceedings of the INMM 52nd Annual Meeting, Palm Desert, CA, July 17-21, 2011.


Technical nuclear forensics (TNF) refers to the collection, analysis and evaluation of pre- and post- detonation radiological or nuclear materials, devices, and/or debris. TNF is an integral component, complementing traditional forensics and investigative work, to help enable the attribution of discovered radiological or nuclear material. Research is needed to improve the capabilities of TNF. One research area of interest is determining the isotopic signatures of research reactors. Research reactors are a potential source of both radiological and nuclear material. Research reactors are often the least safeguarded type of reactor; they vary greatly in size, fuel type, enrichment, power, and burn-up. Many research reactors are fueled with highly-enriched uranium (HEU), up to ~93% 235U, which could potentially be used as weapons material. All of them have significant amounts of radiological material with which a radioactive dispersal device (RDD) could be built. Therefore, the ability to attribute if material originated from or was produced in a specific research reactor is an important tool in providing for the security of the United States. Currently there are approximately 237 operating research reactors worldwide, another 12 are in temporary shutdown and 224 research reactors are reported as shut down. Little is currently known about the isotopic signatures of spent research reactor fuel. An effort is underway at Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL) to analyze spent research reactor fuel to determine these signatures. Computer models, using reactor physics codes, are being compared to the measured analytes in the spent fuel. This allows for improving the reactor physics codes in modeling research reactors for the purpose of nuclear forensics. Currently the Oak Ridge Research reactor (ORR) is being modeled and fuel samples are being analyzed for comparison. Samples of an ORR spent fuel assembly were taken by SRNL for analytical and radiochemical analysis. The fuel assembly was modeled using MONTEBURNS(MCNP5/ ORIGEN2.2) and MCNPX/CINDER90. The results from the models have been compared to each other and to the measured data.

Associated Project(s):

  • Uncertainty Quantification for Nuclear Forensic Model Computations

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