ISU Nuclear Reactor – Sam Kessler

The ISUNuclear Reactor has been used by students going into nuclear engineering or other related fields for over 50 years.  Its official title would be the AGN-201 reactor, which stands for Aerojet-General Nucleonic reactor.  Its purpose is primarily educational in order to prepare students to operate larger reactors.  It has been calibrated to optimal operating ranges as far as power output is concerned, that makes it perfect for students to learn on.  Having the reactor on campus gives students a chance to obtain hands on experience.  Improvements to the reactor such as developing a new oscillating rod system and the development of a new control console have been made for safety purposes and to improve efficiency.  The ISU reactor is currently only one of three that are licensed to operate in the United States, which makes it valuable to anyone going into this field who lives in Idaho.

The AGN-201 reactor is housed in the basement of the Lillibridge Engineering building on the ISU campus.  The reasoning behind why ISU decided to purchase the reactor was because of the potential to develop a great nuclear engineering program.  “Such a combination of class instruction and research facilities in the long term could possibly lead to development of an excellent nuclear training center”, says William L. Ginkel, manager of the Atomic Energy Commission’s operations office in Idaho Falls.  The reactor stands about ten feet tall off the ground and is shielded by a one-foot thick concrete block wall.  The concrete wall serves the purpose of protecting operators from radiation.  Reason being for the safety measures is because the reactor originally operated at a power range of 100 mW, but this was increased to 5 W.  According to some of the students who are currently in the nuclear engineering program here at ISU, “there are no major risks because of the many safety features in place, a person is more likely to get heavy metal poisoning or be exposed to high voltage than they are to radiation.”  There is also an emergency procedure which would include turning off the vents, pressing the scram button (which is just one of multiple shut-offs), and there are automatic shut offs in place in order to ensure safety for the students.  The reactor’s supervisor Adam Mallicoat says that “most of the general public knows little about nuclear energy and often misinterpret the fuel as a dangerous product”.  There may be some misconceptions about nuclear technology and the risks involved with it in this area, but between the safety measures and the professionals that oversee it there is little danger as far as it being a hazard.  Also, the reactor is overseen by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission which helps to minimize risk as well.

The oscillating rods primary function is to modulate the reactors power.  There are multiple reasons why there has been development of a new oscillating rod system for the reactor.  A primary reason being that it is outdated (the technology dates back to the early 1940s) and in the event of system failure there are not replacement parts readily available.  Also, there will be a significant difference in power conservation by installing a new system, about 25% more power saved.  The development of a new control console was also seen as needed one reason being “the new control console will reduce the number of range changes required by the operator in order to maintain the operation of the reactor without causing a scram”.  The new console should also minimize risk and make it easier for the console to be maintained.

Since its implementation into course curriculum over 50 years ago, the ISU Nuclear Reactor has been a great addition to the nuclear engineering program at the university.  With the many safety features and components that make it ideal for students to learn on, it has been proven to be an important educational tool for anyone going into the field of nuclear engineering.  Improvements to the reactor are continually being made as well when necessary in order to make sure that it continues to function properly for future students.

– Sam Kessler


Works Cited


Kosuri, Bhanu Prasad. 2006. Oscillating Rod Modelling, Measurment, Speed Control, and Hardware Design for the ISU AGN-201 Nuclear Reactor. Idaho State University.

O’Connor, Scott William. 2002. Control Rod Drive Logic Modification, Panel Design, and proposed check-out and change-over procedures for the ISU AGN-201 Reactor. Idaho State University.

Ranaivo, Yann. 2010. “ISU shows off its nuclear reactor – Event educates public on uses of radiation.” NewsBank Inc. 1.

Students, Isu Nuclear Engineering, interview by Sam Kessler. 2018. ISU Nuclear Reactor Interview/Tour (November 29).

The ISU Bengal, Jan 6.1965, pg.2, ASISU Newspaper Collection, Box 11, Special Collections and Archives,    Eli M. Oboler Library, Idaho State University