You may be familiar with Penn State’s Beaver Stadium, Lion Shrine, and Old Main, but did you know the school also has the longest continuously running nuclear university reactor in the United States? That’s right, Penn State was chosen as the home to a nuclear reactor in 1955 by President Dwight Eisenhower when he created the Atoms for Peace program. This program intended to supply equipment as well as information about nuclear power to research institutions, hospitals, and schools around the world. Read more for a video of it starting up and additional information.
Officially called the Breazeale Reactor, this installation enables scientists to conduct experiments using neutrons or gamma rays emitted from fission reactions. To start, neutron-based research begins in the 72,000 gallon main reaction pool, where water is used to cool the core and act as a barrier to prevent radiation from escaping into the air. Uranium zirconium hydride fuel rods power the fission reaction in the core, while neutron-absorbing rods of boron carbide are used to moderate.
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This was one of the first licensed research reactors in the nation. For the first time, neutrons and gamma rays were available for civilian scientists. A vast expansion of fundamental research started at that time,” said Kenan Ünlü, who has been director of the University’s Radiation Science and Engineering Center since 2008.