WSU Scientist Explains Radiation Threat - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

WSU Scientist Explains Radiation Threat

PULLMAN, Wash. - On a winding road just east of the main campus at Washington State University, there's a building you might not expect to find on a college campus: a nuclear reactor. Washington State University's Nuclear Radiation Center is home to a small, one megawatt nuclear research reactor, the only one in the state. It is used for teaching, research and for the production of radioactive isotopes.

Reactor Supervisor Corey Hines said his team of scientists are constantly working on better ways to produce everything from medical isotopes to oil exploration to renewable energy.

"We're doing research that benefits mankind and saves lives," Hines said.

In one example of the research, Hines explained, scientists are helping to develop technology to diagnose, and provide treatments for, everything from organ problems to cancer. The NRC also teaches students in the fields of nuclear engineering, physics, chemistry, biology, medicine, geology, environmental sciences, archaeology, and forensic studies.

"Reactor operators are in very, very high demand. They are very high paying jobs," Hines continued.

Washington State University is one of 27 universities in that offer nuclear training. The rigorous training program lasts anywhere from six months to four years and Hines said trainees have a 99 percent success rate. Operators are licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and then often go to work at some of the largest reactors in the world.

"I think it's important that our university have a stake in that kind of research," Daniel Cuthpertson said, WSU graduate student.

"Nuclear technology is really important,"Tanushiee Ganguli said, a WSU student. ''As far as we have a system working to make sure that it's safe and there's a periodic check on it time to time, I feel it's not harmful."

Hines said WSU's reactor is one of the safest of its kind because of several safety measures including sensitive radioactive sensors. "In terms of radiation exposure, we actually get less radiation exposure inside the reactor than people who are driving around all day," Hines said. If there ever was an emergency at the reactor in Pullman, scientists said a 65-thousand gallon tank of water surrounding the reactor would ensure that it would automatically shut down and cool off completely in under an hour.

The WSU Nuclear Reactor recently celebrated its 50th anniversary.

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