More Neutrons, Less Risk

Fast Burst Reactor Replacement

Neutron fluxes can damage and degrade operation of our defense and commercial assets. The Fast Burst Reactor (FBR) at the Army’s White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) is the last remaining operational fast burst reactor serving the DoD and DoE communities for neutron damage testing. The reactor has demonstrated excellent performance for decades. However, because this reactor utilizes greater than 90% highly enriched uranium (HEU), security costs alone for the reactor exceed several million dollars annually and it is a nuclear proliferation threat.

Circuit Board

In 2005, the Defense Science Board on Nuclear Weapon Effects Test, Evaluation, and Simulation noted the immediate need for an “agreement between DoD and DoE for a long term plan to assure continued availability of a prompt neutron source.” Specifically, this DSB Study concluded:

  • A Fast Burst Reactor is critical but security costs are making it difficult to maintain its operation
  • The WSMR FBR should be maintained until an adequate replacement is found
  • An accelerator-based 14 MeV neutron source will be required to duplicate FBR capabilities
  • Thermal neutron sources are also needed for evaluating low energy neutron reactions

As part of an Army-funded project, PNL has developed designs for an accelerator-based replacement for the FBR at WSMR. This system’s performance will exceed that of the existing FBR.