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Testing the Lifespan of Nuclear Reactor Components

Dr. John Luxat works to understand how the materials in reactors are modified over a period of time.

Six years and $24.5 million dollars later (courtesy of the Canada Foundation for Innovation), Engineering Physics professor, John Luxat, can finally realize his dream of opening a network of five facilities dedicated to the study of nuclear systems in early 2016.

The objective of the project is to understand how the lifespan of components in nuclear reactors is affected when subjected to intense neutron irradiation – or in simpler terms, how the materials in these reactors are modified over a period of time. Luxat maintains that, “If we understand these processes better, we can extend operational life between expensive refurbishments”.

Luxat, whose research focuses on nuclear safety and risk analysis, has spent the greater part of the last six years engaged with the Nuclear Materials Post Irradiation Examination Facility, located in the McMaster Accelerator Laboratory. The nine-foot remote radioactive material manipulators are each shielded by a thick lead-infused glass window workstation, which alone are worth $1.7 million. These remote-controlled manipulators are used for the handling and processing of highly sensitive and radioactive materials involved in operating nuclear reactors. Luxat maintains that these workstations are unique to McMaster: “In terms of its size and capabilities, it’s the only one at a university anywhere in the world”.

In addition to his post as a faculty member in the department of Engineering Physics, Luxat serves as director for the Centre of Advanced Nuclear Systems and as the NSERC/UNENE Senior Industrial Research Chair in Nuclear Systems. Throughout his 32 years in the Canadian nuclear industry, he has also managed Ontario Power Generation’s Nuclear Safety Technology Department.

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