Because materials and nuclear fuel properties change as they undergo neutron irradiation, quantification of these changes under prototypic conditions is critical for assuring the safety of operating fission reactors, for developing advanced fission reactor concepts, and for designing fusion devices. Research reactors such as ORNL's High Flux Isotope Reactor allow material and fuel samples to be studied under prototypic temperatures and neutron spectrum while greatly accelerating the material changes due to their high neutron flux. Irradiation Engineering is the science and technology of designing, fabricating and operating experiments that characterize the property changes of materials and fuels under irradiation conditions.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory maintains multiple laboratories and a staff of highly skilled specialists supporting this specialization. The experimental design process utilizes state-of-the-art software such as Pro-Engineer, ANSYS and RELAP5 to develop the mechanical design of the experiments, assures that experimental operating goals are met, and confirms that the experiment can be safely irradiated in the research reactor.