TU Delft is unique in many ways, but perhaps none more so than being a university that also has a nuclear reactor on its campus. It is here, inside the Reactor Institute Delft's dome-towered building located near the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering, that nuclear reactions occur as part of important research conducted in a host of scientific fields.

TU Delft‘s 'Hoger Onderwijs Reactor' (HOR/Higher Education Reactor) was originally sited away from the center of the TU's campus for safety reasons, but with the university expanding so quickly, new facilities (potential candidates are biotechnology and chemical engineering) are being planned directly next to the HOR, where they can take advantage of the reactor's excess heat.The reactor itself was originally purchased off the back of a trailer at a traveling road show put on by then-U.S. President Eisenhower's 'Atoms for Peace' program, which put a friendly face on atomic energy in the 1950s, and later evolved into the International Atomic Energy Agency. In the 45 years since the HOR first reached 'criticality', it has been used only for peaceful purposes.The HOR is a 2-megawatt Research Reactor, which is tiny when compared to power plant reactors that generally produce hundreds of megawatts of electrical power. "This is a research reactor that is used for providing neutrons and positrons, not electrical power," says Menno Blaauw, head of the Facilities & Services department of the Reactor Institute Delft (RID).The motto at the reactor is 'We see materials from the inside', and research supported by the reactor is at the cutting edge of many fields, from engineering to oncology. In Aerospace Engineering, scientists who study fatigue of materials look at the possibility of 'self-healing' aluminum alloys for aircraft bodies. When fatigued pieces are exposed to nuclear radiation, scientists can see better the cracks caused by stress, and they can then observe migration of free copper atoms added to the aluminum, which hopefully will fill the voids.Similarly, in Earth Sciences, radiation raises stress levels in quartz particles, which helps geologists date sand layers in rivers and dunes back 40,000 years. Radiation can also expose rare earth elements, which has helped archeologists figure out if the dinosaurs really became extinct when an asteroid collided with the earth.Applications in the biosciences are also very promising. Each year approximately 2,000 toenails are sent to the HOR and passed through the core in small capsules, exposing them to radiation to show elemental concentrations linked to diet and disposition to certain diseases. Also, radioactive Holmium atoms can be sent through the bloodstream encapsulated in lyposomes (small spheres of fat) designed to stick in certain areas of the bloodstream close to tumors, effectively localizing radiation treatment.Plans are also in the works to build a new Proton Therapy Centre next door to the reactor. Proton Therapy is a new field of cancer treatment that minimizes excess exposure to radiation far better than common radiation treatment. Delft's may be the first of three Proton Therapy Centers built in the Netherlands, each capable of treating 2,000 patients annually.Uranium 235With all the advanced research that the reactor affords, access to nuclear technology is still a controversial issue these days. Recently, the Dutch government, in an attempt to comply with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1737, instructed all Dutch universities of technology to be "extra vigilant" with Iranian students. The universities of Twente and Eindhoven carried out the order by effectively blocking all future admission of Iranians; however, Delft has taken a softer approach.The Reactor Institute Delft's Director Tim van der Hagen says Delft has an agreement with the Dutch government to allow Iranian students to research and study at the RID: "Iranian students, PhDs and post-docs are very welcome at RID. Students from some countries, including Iran, only have access to the reactor and to some very specific computer packages after screening by the AIVD, the Netherlands' General Intelligence and Security administration."Twente and Eindhoven decided later to retract their policies, in part due to an online petition signed by over 4,000 people around the world, including MIT's Noam Chomsky. Behnam Taebi, a co-organizer of the petition writing his PhD dissertation on Nuclear Waste Recycling at the newly-formed 3TU Federation, is satisfied with Delft's approach: "TU Delft responded reasonably, but the Dutch government still has plans to bar Iranian students from certain courses and research fields. Of course there are security concerns, but it's naive to exclude solely based on nationality."Safety is of course the most important concern for a nuclear reactor. Blaauw believes the HOR is completely safe: "We have a perfect maintenance record and no significant reportable incidents in over 45 years of use." Blaauw says there is no reason to ever decommission the reactor if maintenance is kept up.The Dutch governmental nuclear watchdog, the 'Kern Fysische Dienst' (Nuclear Physics Agency), recently tested all the Netherlands' nuclear facilities against intrusion and terrorist attack. Five attempts were made to get into Delft's HOR and all were thwarted. Later, three intruders gained access through the roof at night, but were caught in the hallway and didn't come close to accessing the reactor area. Blaauw: "We did quite well, 4.5 out of 5 is very good, the best out of all the other facilities tested."Although Blaauw believes the reactor is completely safe, and that nuclear technology is the wave of the future, the question of waste disposal remains a concern for many. The fuel elements being used now are stored at the Dutch 'HABOG' disposal site, which is scheduled to close in 2016. And of course there's the factor of supply. The main input in a nuclear reaction, Uranium 235, will become increasingly difficult to extract from the earth. However, a new wave of nuclear technology . fast reactors . uses Uranium 238, which is a hundred times more abundant.Even though nuclear technology is not considered 'sustainable', Blaauw argues that for the time being it's the most environmentally responsible of the non-renewable energy sources: "If you compare it to what we're doing now with energy production, blasting pollutants like CO2 into the atmosphere, we're still trying to figure out what the risks are. With nuclear waste, we know the risks. Even if we must pay to secure a waste facility for the next 500 years, that will still be cheaper and more responsible than dealing with the effects of pollution from fossil fuel use."For a listing of this week’s Study Breaks, go to: www.delta.tudelft.nl

TU Delft‘s 'Hoger Onderwijs Reactor' (HOR/Higher Education Reactor) was originally sited away from the center of the TU's campus for safety reasons, but with the university expanding so quickly, new facilities (potential candidates are biotechnology and chemical engineering) are being planned directly next to the HOR, where they can take advantage of the reactor's excess heat.The reactor itself was originally purchased off the back of a trailer at a traveling road show put on by then-U.S. President Eisenhower's 'Atoms for Peace' program, which put a friendly face on atomic energy in the 1950s, and later evolved into the International Atomic Energy Agency. In the 45 years since the HOR first reached 'criticality', it has been used only for peaceful purposes.The HOR is a 2-megawatt Research Reactor, which is tiny when compared to power plant reactors that generally produce hundreds of megawatts of electrical power. "This is a research reactor that is used for providing neutrons and positrons, not electrical power," says Menno Blaauw, head of the Facilities & Services department of the Reactor Institute Delft (RID).The motto at the reactor is 'We see materials from the inside', and research supported by the reactor is at the cutting edge of many fields, from engineering to oncology. In Aerospace Engineering, scientists who study fatigue of materials look at the possibility of 'self-healing' aluminum alloys for aircraft bodies. When fatigued pieces are exposed to nuclear radiation, scientists can see better the cracks caused by stress, and they can then observe migration of free copper atoms added to the aluminum, which hopefully will fill the voids.Similarly, in Earth Sciences, radiation raises stress levels in quartz particles, which helps geologists date sand layers in rivers and dunes back 40,000 years. Radiation can also expose rare earth elements, which has helped archeologists figure out if the dinosaurs really became extinct when an asteroid collided with the earth.Applications in the biosciences are also very promising. Each year approximately 2,000 toenails are sent to the HOR and passed through the core in small capsules, exposing them to radiation to show elemental concentrations linked to diet and disposition to certain diseases. Also, radioactive Holmium atoms can be sent through the bloodstream encapsulated in lyposomes (small spheres of fat) designed to stick in certain areas of the bloodstream close to tumors, effectively localizing radiation treatment.Plans are also in the works to build a new Proton Therapy Centre next door to the reactor. Proton Therapy is a new field of cancer treatment that minimizes excess exposure to radiation far better than common radiation treatment. Delft's may be the first of three Proton Therapy Centers built in the Netherlands, each capable of treating 2,000 patients annually.Uranium 235With all the advanced research that the reactor affords, access to nuclear technology is still a controversial issue these days. Recently, the Dutch government, in an attempt to comply with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1737, instructed all Dutch universities of technology to be "extra vigilant" with Iranian students. The universities of Twente and Eindhoven carried out the order by effectively blocking all future admission of Iranians; however, Delft has taken a softer approach.The Reactor Institute Delft's Director Tim van der Hagen says Delft has an agreement with the Dutch government to allow Iranian students to research and study at the RID: "Iranian students, PhDs and post-docs are very welcome at RID. Students from some countries, including Iran, only have access to the reactor and to some very specific computer packages after screening by the AIVD, the Netherlands' General Intelligence and Security administration."Twente and Eindhoven decided later to retract their policies, in part due to an online petition signed by over 4,000 people around the world, including MIT's Noam Chomsky. Behnam Taebi, a co-organizer of the petition writing his PhD dissertation on Nuclear Waste Recycling at the newly-formed 3TU Federation, is satisfied with Delft's approach: "TU Delft responded reasonably, but the Dutch government still has plans to bar Iranian students from certain courses and research fields. Of course there are security concerns, but it's naive to exclude solely based on nationality."Safety is of course the most important concern for a nuclear reactor. Blaauw believes the HOR is completely safe: "We have a perfect maintenance record and no significant reportable incidents in over 45 years of use." Blaauw says there is no reason to ever decommission the reactor if maintenance is kept up.The Dutch governmental nuclear watchdog, the 'Kern Fysische Dienst' (Nuclear Physics Agency), recently tested all the Netherlands' nuclear facilities against intrusion and terrorist attack. Five attempts were made to get into Delft's HOR and all were thwarted. Later, three intruders gained access through the roof at night, but were caught in the hallway and didn't come close to accessing the reactor area. Blaauw: "We did quite well, 4.5 out of 5 is very good, the best out of all the other facilities tested."Although Blaauw believes the reactor is completely safe, and that nuclear technology is the wave of the future, the question of waste disposal remains a concern for many. The fuel elements being used now are stored at the Dutch 'HABOG' disposal site, which is scheduled to close in 2016. And of course there's the factor of supply. The main input in a nuclear reaction, Uranium 235, will become increasingly difficult to extract from the earth. However, a new wave of nuclear technology . fast reactors . uses Uranium 238, which is a hundred times more abundant.Even though nuclear technology is not considered 'sustainable', Blaauw argues that for the time being it's the most environmentally responsible of the non-renewable energy sources: "If you compare it to what we're doing now with energy production, blasting pollutants like CO2 into the atmosphere, we're still trying to figure out what the risks are. With nuclear waste, we know the risks. Even if we must pay to secure a waste facility for the next 500 years, that will still be cheaper and more responsible than dealing with the effects of pollution from fossil fuel use."For a listing of this week’s Study Breaks, go to: www.delta.tudelft.nl