continues, to be completed in about 3 years
By Julie Peterson
Office of the Vice President of Communications
A process to decommission the University’s Ford Nuclear Reactor,
announced by the University in Nov. 2000, is expected to be complete
in approximately three years. Fawwaz Ulaby, vice president for research,
says the reactor likely will continue to operate until next summer
while plans for the decommissioning are being prepared.
The Ford Nuclear Reactor, located on U-M’s North Campus, originally
was constructed in 1955 with a gift from the Ford Motor Co. It is
used for research and educational purposes, supporting a range of
experiments that require materials to be irradiated.
Over the past few years, however, the proportion of use by U-M researchers
has declined to between 15 and 25 percent of the total available
reactor hours. Researchers from the federal government and industry
now use it the bulk of the time. The University decided to close
the reactor because it can no longer afford to subsidize the cost
of research by outside entities.
“Federal and industry users do not provide us with adequate
financial support for their use of the reactor,” Ulaby says.
“We have applied for federal programs that help support university-based
research reactors, but we have not been selected for additional
funding. Therefore we are continuing with our plans for decommissioning.”
In addition to the ongoing operating costs, he notes, the building
that houses the reactor would need more than $10 million in renovations,
should the reactor continue operating over the long term.
The decommissioning process, which is done in close coordination
with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), involves several steps,
including a site assessment; formal application to the NRC for decommissioning;
removal of the radioactive, low-grade, low-enriched fuel material;
and the final process of shutting down the facility. Ulaby estimates
it will take about three years to complete all the necessary steps.
The reactor probably will be available for research projects through
July 2003, Ulaby says. However, the exact period of operation will
be determined by a number of factors, including ability to maintain
the necessary staffing, length of time needed to complete the site
assessment and receipt of necessary NRC approvals.
About 20 U-M researchers currently use the reactor for their research
projects. Those researchers will be assisted in switching to other
research methods or identifying other facilities that can perform
the needed functions.
Despite the reactor’s decommissioning, the University will
continue with a related project, the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Project,
Ulaby notes. The Phoenix Project was founded in 1948 as a World
War II memorial. It supports the peaceful applications of nuclear
science through basic and applied research, training of students,
and public outreach and education.