NARRAGANSETT—As Japan reels from the tsunami disaster and its 11 local nuclear reactors steam and smoke, it has led experts of all kinds to debate the utility of atomic energy. Today, 30 percent of South County’s power comes from a nuclear plant in Waterford, Conn., and Narragansett’s own Nuclear Science Center research reactor on URI’s Bay Campus is humming quietly, for now. One critic, former Rep. Ray Rickman, is sending a letter to Gov. Lincoln Chafee demanding answers about the cost, safety, and future of the local nuclear facility.
The reactor was built in 1964 and, while it was built by General Electric (the same engineer of the 35-year-old Japanese plants) it is 2,000 times smaller than those energy facilities, about the size of a barrel. It does not have a pressurized system and does not create power and its fuel is funded by the Department of Energy. It is owned by the state, inspected by the federal government, and for fiscal year 2011 it will cost the state $1.49 million.
The reactor has gone through many improvements and changes, according to Distinguished Professor Bahram Nassersharif of URI. In 1992, for example, the type of fuel the reactor uses was changed. Nasshersharif expects the reactor to survive 20 more years and explains that that if the facility were to be constructed today it would cost $100 million.
“We have won many research and education awards,” Nassersharif said. “The latest achievement was last year when my students won first place at the National American Nuclear Society student design competition. Their design was for the ‘sample transport system and radioactive material depository' which has now been installed at the reactor.’”
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