Ten Middlebury Institute students participated in the Czech Republic Nuclear Research Reactor Practicum led by Scientist-in-Residence Dr. George Moore over the Winter Term (J-term). The practicum is a partnership with the Department of Nuclear Research Reactors at Czech Technical University and offers students the unique opportunity to conduct experiments on the research reactor, visit other plants and meet with experts at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, Austria.
At the Czech Technical University, students learned about topics such as nuclear safeguards and security. “We learned about the need to ensure safety and security of nuclear power plants from humans, the environment, and other outside factors, as well as protecting humans and the environment from potential nuclear power plant dangers,” shared Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies student Kelsey Keehfus MANPTS ’20. Additionally, students were instructed how to calculate the power output of a nuclear reactor through the distribution of neutrons and how to identify what kinds of radioactive nucleotides are present in an unknown sample based on wavelengths and peaks provided through analyses of a computer database.
Apart from the lessons and experiments conducted at the Czech Technical University, students gained real-world perspective from various site visits and meetings. During a visit to the nuclear power plant in Temelin in the Czech Republic, students learned how water is funneled through a steam generator at around 2000 liters/second (the generator being approximately 9.2 meters long and weighing 86 tons) to generate power. At the Nuclear Radiation Protection Institution, the group learned how different types of equipment are used to assess the extent to which someone may have been exposed to radiation. They also visited the famous Czech automaker Skoda, and learned about the lesser known part of their operations, producing parts for nuclear plants. “We saw the amount of detail and consideration that goes into welding giant 106-ton pieces of machinery,” says Keehfus of the visit to Skoda, “most of which require three different seals and layers of protective coating such as copper to ensure that radiation will not leak out once it is stored. These pieces of machinery also require highly specific geometric designs to ensure that neutrons are not interacting with each other in significant ways that would produce too much heat or cause a chain reaction that could lead to an unintended explosion.”
Keehfus says she particularly enjoyed “getting to work with nuclear reactors first hand and seeing power plants and pieces of machinery being made.” She remarked that the experience helped her put into perspective what she has learned in the classroom and understand this aspect of the field she studies at the Institute on a deeper level.
After she earns her degree, Keehfus hopes to go to Officer Candidate School for the Army. “The military uses nuclear power for weapons, defense systems, and energy,” she explains. “This experience will allow me to enter into the military with some hands-on experience operating nuclear reactors and seeing how the machinery is made. This practicum, coupled with my policy background provided by the Institute, will hopefully allow me to assist with policy reformation and implementation alongside nuclear engineers in the military, ultimately aiding in projects aimed at improving how the military uses its nuclear capabilities and resources for energy and in foreign relations.”
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