Starting around 2am Michigan time, we walked over to the Czech Technical University Department of Nuclear Sciences and Physical Engineering to start our first day of the program. It was fantastic, wonderfully nerdy and full of science. We did the typical introductory lectures on the general definition of a research reactor and some basic background information, but the best part of the day was when we got to actually see it. As seen in the picture above, we were given yellow lab coats, booties, and dosimeters before we could enter the department. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to bring camera phones in so I was not able to secure my long-coveted reactor snapchat, but they had some guy taking pictures so hopefully there will be more photos to follow.
The reactor was quite fun to see in person. We got to stand over the reactor tank and look into the water where we could see the fuel rods at the bottom. I think one of the things that surprised me the most was that since it is a subcritical reactor, the water that is used as a moderator/biomedical shield is not really needed as a coolant. Since it gives off such low (bordering on nonexistent) thermal energy, the water is unneeded to cool it.
The reactor has a neutron source at its base, which is used to initiate fission, and at the end of the tour, most of us opted to climb under the tank to see it. Although climbing down into a low-ceilinged tunnel with the radioactive warning symbol on the hatch cover would seem inadvisable to most, we couldn’t help ourselves … Although notably both our program leaders didn’t go … and then proceeded to make jokes about what to do if our hair starts falling out later in the evening. I checked my dosimeter at the end of the tour and I had received no more radiation than I most likely would have walking down town, less than 0.01 μSv/h.
I am really hoping we will get to wear one of those big space-like radiation protection suits one of the days. (So I can make it my new profile picture obviously)