The University Record, December 4, 2000

Planning under way for decommissioning of nuclear reactor

By Julie Peterson
News and Information Services

The University will begin the planning process necessary to decommission its Ford Nuclear Reactor and related facilities of the Phoenix Memorial Laboratory, located on North Campus. The Ford Nuclear Reactor, originally constructed in 1955 thanks to a generous gift from the Ford Motor Co., has been used for research and educational purposes, supporting a range of experiments that require materials to be irradiated.

“The decision to shut down and decommission the reactor was not taken lightly, and has involved discussions at the highest levels of the University,” said Fawwaz Ulaby, vice president for research. “In recent years, however, the reactor’s use by the academic community has declined substantially to the point where the bulk of the users now come from the federal government and industry. Given this change, the University can no longer justify the reactor’s substantial cost of operation, which now largely subsidizes non-University users.”

Ulaby said the University will seek support from federal and industrial sources, and will revisit the decision if a significant, long-term commitment is made by an external source to cover the reactor’s operational costs.

Research by U-M faculty who have used the reactor has contributed much to nuclear science as well as to the advancement of knowledge in such fields as nuclear engineering, anthropology and geology, among others, Ulaby said. The University will work with individual faculty members to help minimize any negative effects of closing the reactor on their research and teaching by helping to cover the expenses of obtaining reactor services from other facilities, he said.

Ulaby has been asked by President Lee C. Bollinger to oversee the decommissioning process. Ulaby noted that the process will take several years and is regulated by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The planning process includes providing opportunity for public comment.

“We will develop a comprehensive plan that meets the highest standards for safety, and that plan will be reviewed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission,” Ulaby said. “Throughout the planning and actual decommissioning work, the University will do its best to familiarize all affected parties with the steps being taken. All appropriate local officials will be kept fully informed and consulted to ensure the safety of the University and local community.”