Secretary’s Honor Awards recognize ORNL employees

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm speaks at the Secretary’s Honor Awards Ceremony, which was presented virtually. (Photo credit: Jaimee Janiga/ORNL, U.S. Department of Energy)

Oak Ridge National Laboratory employees received Department of Energy Secretary’s Honor Awards from Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm in January for their work on projects related to computer tools and classified information, a new alloy, and the production of plutonium-238 and special components for the Mars Perseverance rover.

The annual awards recognized 21 teams and three individuals for service and contributions to DOE’s mission and to the benefit of the nation, a press release said. More than 50 current employees and recent retirees from ORNL received awards.

“The Department of Energy’s core mission—promoting scientific discovery, maintaining the nuclear deterrent, and remediating environmental harms—have never been more important,” Granholm said. “Our role in tackling the climate emergency and ensuring America’s continued security and prosperity is absolutely critical, and it could not be done without the dedicated and diverse team of world-class scientists, engineers, policy experts, and mission support personnel employed at our headquarters, fields sites, and laboratories across the country.”

The teams and ORNL employees named in achievement awards include:

[Read more…]

Test reactor could be built at Oak Ridge, Idaho

Oak Ridge National Laboratory Sign
Photo by ORNL

Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Idaho National Laboratory are being considered as potential sites for a test reactor, where fuels and materials could be tested for new types of nuclear power reactors.

It’s not clear where the test reactor would be built at ORNL, if it’s built there.

The fast-neutron reactor, called the Versatile Test Reactor, would be sodium-cooled and small, about 300 megawatts thermal. It would be based on the GE Hitachi PRISM power reactor. That’s a small module design based on the Experimental Breeder Reactor-II, which operated for more than 30 years in Idaho, the U.S. Department of Energy said in a notice published in the Federal Register on Monday. (Fast neutrons are highly energetic neutrons that travel at speeds ranging from tens to thousands of kilometers per second.)

The Versatile Test Reactor would be a pool-type reactor and use metal alloy fuels that could include uranium, plutonium, zirconium and other alloying metals. It would not be a power reactor, and it would not generate electricity. It could generate at least 4×1015 neutrons per square centimeter per second.

Reactor operations could start as early as the end of 2026, DOE said. Fuel for the reactor could be fabricated at Idaho National Laboratory or the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

[Read more…]

NRC could finish design review of small reactor by 2020

Cross-sectional view of the NuScale Power small modular reactor building. (Image courtesy NuScale Power)

NuScale Power of Portland, Oregon, said Monday that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has completed the second and third phases of its review of NuScale’s design for a small modular nuclear reactor, and the NRC is on track to complete the design review by September 2020.

This could be important to Oak Ridge because small modular reactors are possible at the Clinch River Nuclear Site in west Oak Ridge, although there are additional approvals that would be required.

The completion of the second and third phases of the NuScale design review is six weeks ahead of schedule, the company said in a press release on Monday.

“Completing phases 2 and 3 of the NRC’s design review certification process is a critical milestone for our company and the advanced nuclear industry,” said NuScale Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John Hopkins.

[Read more…]

DOE updating security order after intelligence reports about drone threats

A drone is pictured above. (Photo courtesy Federal Aviation Administration)

The U.S. Department of Energy is updating a classified security order that will reflect recent intelligence assessments about the threats posed by unmanned aerial systems, or drones, as some federal officials express concerns that terrorists could use drones to harm the United States.

That information is included in a report issued by the DOE Inspector General, or IG, in April.

While developing the report, the IG reviewed controls in place at the Y-12 National Security Complex and Idaho National Laboratory. The IG found that the National Nuclear Security Administration, including Y-12, has been proactive in establishing “limited internal controls” that include observing and reporting unmanned aerial systems, as well as using deadly force if hostile intent is determined.

The IG said drones are becoming increasingly popular, and some unmanned aerial systems that are commercially available and relatively affordable have high-definition cameras, auto pilot global positioning system navigation, and the ability to carry and remotely release payloads.

[Read more…]

Vogel giving up Council seat in move to Idaho lab


Hans Vogel

Oak Ridge City Council member Hans Vogel will give up his seat at the end of June because he is moving to Idaho National Laboratory in July.

Vogel made the announcement at the City Council meeting on Monday.

Vogel said he will be director of strategic irradiation capability for the Advanced Test Reactor at INL, which is in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

“It is a career opportunity,” Vogel said Monday night. “This opportunity at Idaho National Laboratory was something I couldn’t turn down.”

Vogel will also resign from his seat on the Oak Ridge Municipal Planning Commission. He was on the Planning Commission before he was elected to City Council in November 2016. He now serves as the City Council representative on Planning Commission. [Read more…]

FAA restricts drone flights over ORNL, Y-12

Photo courtesy Federal Aviation Administration

Photo courtesy Federal Aviation Administration


Note: This story was last updated at 4:10 p.m.

The Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Department of Energy have agreed to restrict drone flights over Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Y-12 National Security Complex, and five other federal sites.

It is the first time the FAA has placed specific airspace restrictions for unmanned aircraft, or “drones,” over DOE sites.

Under the new rules, no drones can be operated within the restricted areas from the ground (surface) up to an altitude of 400 feet. The airspace restrictions take effect Friday, December 29.

Here are the seven sites that are affected: [Read more…]

DOE labs, including ORNL, recognized as international R&D hub by IAEA

The High Flux Isotope Reactor at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. (Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Energy/ORNL)

The High Flux Isotope Reactor at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. (Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Energy/ORNL)


Federal laboratories in Oak Ridge and Idaho, along with a nuclear research center in Belgium, will make their research reactors, labs, and education and training facilities available to scientists from other countries for training, research, and development, officials announced at the IAEA General Conference in Austria on Monday.

The IAEA is the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The facilities that will make their reactors available are the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Idaho National Laboratory, and the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre SCK*CEN, the IAEA said.

The institutions received designations as IAEA International Centres based on Research Reactor, or ICERR, the IAEA said.

The reactors include the High Flux Isotope Reactor at ORNL, the Advance Test Reactor at Idaho National Laboratory, and the Belgian Reactor 2. [Read more…]

ORNL: Neutrons peer into a running engine

Researchers used neutrons to probe a running engine at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Spallation Neutron Source, giving them the opportunity to test an aluminum-cerium alloy under operating conditions. From left, researchers Orlando Rios, Ke An, and Eric Stromme show off a cylinder head made from the new alloy. (Photo by ORNL/U.S. Department of Energy)

Researchers used neutrons to probe a running engine at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Spallation Neutron Source, giving them the opportunity to test an aluminum-cerium alloy under operating conditions. From left, researchers Orlando Rios, Ke An, and Lt. Eric Stromme show off a cylinder head made from the new alloy. (Photo by ORNL/U.S. Department of Energy)


By Ashley C. Huff, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

In a first-of-a-kind experiment, researchers used neutrons to investigate the performance of a new aluminum alloy in a gasoline-powered engine—while the engine was running.

A team from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory worked with industry partners to perform the test, which looked at whether a high-performance alloy that is promising for automotive applications held up under the heat and stress of an internal combustion engine.

Researchers used neutrons to probe a running engine at ORNL’s Spallation Neutron Source, giving them the opportunity to test an aluminum-cerium alloy under operating conditions.

The feat was a first for the Spallation Neutron Source, said Ke An, lead instrument scientist for the facility’s VULCAN instrument.

“This was the first time an internal combustion engine has been run on our diffractometer, and, as far as we know, on any other,” he said. [Read more…]

Small modular nuclear reactors not likely before mid-2020s


The Tennessee Valley Authority plans to apply by May 12 for an early site permit that could allow small modular nuclear reactors at the Clinch River Site in west Oak Ridge, possibly as soon as the mid-2020s. Pictured above at a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission meeting to discuss the early site permit on Tuesday, April 12, 2016, is Dan Stout, TVA senior manager for small modular reactors. (Photo by John Huotari/Oak Ridge Today)


The small modular nuclear reactors being evaluated for the Clinch River Site in west Oak Ridge could provide an emissions-free fuel source, but it could be a decade or so before they start operating. And that’s assuming all goes according to plan, officials said Tuesday.

The Tennessee Valley Authority is evaluating the possibility of building the small modular reactors, or SMRs, at the 1,200-acre Clinch River Site. To help prepare for the project, TVA plans to apply for what is known as an early site permit, or ESP, for the Oak Ridge project from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission by May 12.

The NRC had two public meetings at Oak Ridge Associated Universities on Tuesday to discuss the safety and environmental review process related to the TVA permit application.

The early site permit application will allow the NRC to evaluate site safety, the environment, and emergency preparedness for future SMRs at the Clinch River Site. That site is in west Oak Ridge just north of the Clinch River and Interstate 40, south of Heritage Center (the former K-25 site), and between Highway 95 and Highway 58 in a bend of the Clinch River.

The review of TVA’s application for an early site permit could take about three years, and maybe longer if any groups raise legal challenges, said Scott Burnell, NRC public affairs officer. [Read more…]

Wireless electric charging: The future of plug-in electric vehicles is going cordless


Researchers from Oak Ridge National Laboratory test a wireless charger on the fully-electric Toyota Scion iQ at a demonstration site. (Photo courtesy Oak Ridge National Laboratory)


By Nay Chehab

What if charging your plug-in electric vehicle was as easy as parking it? No need for cords or cards. Just as Wi-Fi has freed consumers of wires when accessing the Internet, wireless charging technology may soon be as widespread, thanks to research supported by the U.S. Department of Energy.

With support from the Vehicle Technologies Office, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Hyundai America Technical Center Inc. have been working since 2012 to demonstrate wireless charging on a variety of vehicles. ORNL is working with a mix of Toyota vehicles, including models of the all-electric RAV 4, plug-in hybrid electric Prius, and all-electric Scion iQ, while Hyundai America Technical Center Inc. is testing its technology on five all-electric Kia Souls.

The technology behind wireless charging creates a connection between a transmitting pad on the ground (such as in a garage) and a receiving pad integrated on the bottom of the vehicle. In the projects ORNL is leading, the transmitting pad is connected to a 240-volt outlet and generates a magnetic field of a certain frequency. When the coil in the receiving pad is tuned to oscillate at the same frequency, the magnetic field will generate a current in the receiving coil, charging the vehicle’s battery. [Read more…]

ORNL supports new projects to develop advanced nuclear technologies

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory will support two new DOE-funded projects to explore, develop, and demonstrate advanced nuclear reactor technologies.

The projects announced January 15 will allow industry-led teams with participants from universities and national laboratories to further nuclear energy technology, and will enable companies to further develop their advanced reactor designs with potential for demonstration in the mid-2030s. Initially, DOE’s investment will be $6 million for each project and both companies will provide cost-share. The possible multi-year cost-share value for this research is up to $80 million.

A project led by Southern Company Services, a subsidiary of Southern Company, focuses on molten chloride fast reactors, or MCFRs. The effort includes ORNL, TerraPower, the Electric Power Research Institute, and Vanderbilt University. [Read more…]