Ready to Lead
Earlier this year the extent of ORNL's nuclear science and engineering capabilities was clearly demonstrated during the accident at Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant. ORNL led the effort to bring researchers together from a number of Department of Energy national laboratories, to analyze and assess available data, and to provide the U.S. government with results and recommendations to support the Japanese recovery effort.
This issue of the ORNL Review focuses on the increasingly important role of nuclear science and engineering at the laboratory. ORNL has been at the heart of nuclear research and development since its origin in the Manhattan Project during World War II. Today, the breadth of the laboratory's nuclear expertise goes far beyond weapons development, extending from nuclear power to medical isotopes and from naval propulsion to nuclear nonproliferation.
The driving force for ORNL's early nuclear program was Alvin Weinberg, who served as Laboratory Director from 1955 to 1973. Early in his career, Weinberg participated in Enrico Fermi's experiment that produced the world's first sustained nuclear reaction. Later, he came to Oak Ridge to help build a new laboratory and launch a 60-year odyssey of nuclear technological development that changed the world forever.
In many ways, ORNL is returning to its nuclear roots as it prepares to play a prominent role in the nation's nuclear renaissance. The laboratory combines the capabilities of one of the world's fastest open source computers, highest flux reactor, world-class materials science facilities, and a highly talented team of scientists and engineers to ensure that the U.S. remains a leader and innovator in the nuclear field.
Among ORNL's recent accomplishments, several are particularly noteworthy. ORNL's isotope program has been at the leading edge of research for diagnosing and treating diseases, such as cancer and rheumatoid arthritis, since the laboratory shipped the first medical radioisotopes in 1946. ORNL also leads the world in producing "heavy" elements, which have a variety of scientific and industrial applications. For example, a batch of ORNL-produced berkelium-249 was used recently in a collaboration with Russia's Joint Institute for Nuclear Research, to discover a new element—number 117 on the periodic table.
The laboratory's world-class computing capability is critical to advancing nuclear research and development. The Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors is a fulfillment of Weinberg's vision for the laboratory—a place to tackle important scientific challenges by providing large, diverse teams of researchers with state-of-the-art scientific tools of discovery. CASL will enable researchers from universities, industry and the DOE's national laboratories to use high-resolution modeling and simulation tools to design safer and more efficient nuclear reactors.
These achievements, among many others, confirm that the nuclear laboratory Alvin Weinberg built remains in good hands, ready to lead the renewal of nuclear science and engineering.
Jeff Binder, Director
Fuel Cycle and Isotopes Division
Nuclear Science and Engineering Directorate
Oak Ridge National Laboratory