NC State is home to nuclear reactor

Posted March 16, 2011

— In the middle of campus of North Carolina State University lies a working 1-megawatt nuclear reactor.

Sixty years ago, N.C. State was the nation’s first academic institution to build a nuclear reactor. The current model sitting at the university’s Burlington Engineering Laboratories is 40 years old.

The reactor, which produces thermal watts instead of electrical, gives 300 nuclear engineering students at N.C. State a chance to learn how to operate a reactor.

“The main purpose of this reactor is basically training and teaching. We also conduct scientific research,” said Ayman Hawari, the director of the school’s Nuclear Reactor Program.

Hawari said the campus facility is safe and designed to withstand natural disasters.

The facility is also small, about 3,000 times less powerful than the Shearon Harris nuclear plant in western Wake County.

Hawari said the school’s reactor is designed to prevent disasters like those affecting the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Japan, where radiation leaks and the failure of safety systems followed a deadly tsunami and earthquake. 

Waters levels dropped precipitously on Monday inside the Japanese reactor, twice leaving the uranium fuel rods completely exposed and raising the threat of a meltdown.

Hawari said N.C. State's reactor is not designed to meltdown if water level drops in the core. 

It is too soon to tell how Japan’s plant will fare, but Hawari said he expects much will be learned about nuclear energy in the long run.

“It’s lessons learned for everyone around the world, including us in the United States,” he said.

NC State has nuclear reactor NC State has nuclear reactor

Despite an increased interest in alternative energy sources, Hawari said nuclear power is still an important part of the future.

“We'll learn a lot from what happened in Japan. We'll take it. We'll absorb it, and we'll even get better,” he said.

Last year, N.C. State won a federal grant to upgrade the reactor to 2 megawatts of energy. Hawari said that will allow students to conduct more complex experiments.


This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • carrboroyouth Mar 17, 2011

    Sorry, not news :/
    Although once I saw a hazmat truck outside of the building and sort of wondered, haha. Don't think anything came out of it.

  • Classified Mar 17, 2011

    Sophie Lowe - In light of the situation unfolding in Japan I'd have to say your comment is in poor taste.

  • packfan27 Mar 17, 2011

    Way to spin it WRAL! You have achieved a new low. :|

    And to think they call us Moo U...To hear the 'brainiacs' talk, this should be over at Duke or UNC since they are sooooo much than NCSU.

  • spbgamer Mar 17, 2011

    I'm not in a panic, but I find this statement funny:

    "Hawari said N.C. State's reactor is not designed to meltdown if water level drops in the core."

    I don't think anyone would design a reactor to meltdown if the water level drops in the core.

  • Dixiecrat Mar 17, 2011

    This may surprise some people but it's old news to anybody that was a student there. My enginering building was right across the street from it. There are these funky brick columns that are on the four corners of the nuclear engineering building, and supposedly if there was a radiation leak you would know because these brick columns would collapse. In other words, if you see them fall, don't ask questions, just run like he||. Don't know how much truth there was in that but it was the campus rumor at the time.

  • Sophie Lowe Mar 16, 2011

    Let's panic! The world is coming to an end! This is a huge disaster, the core is going to melt down and we are all going to DIE!!!!!

  • ncspamfish Mar 16, 2011

    i was an engineering student (non nuclear) during the 60s and used to walk by or over the nuke at nc state.

    do i glow in the i dont think so. but wral's piece doesnt glow either.......its nothing more than a space filler.

  • chfdcpt Mar 16, 2011

    Yet folks freak out when they find out that they bought a home in the New Hill area next to a nuclear power plant.

  • davidgnews Mar 16, 2011

    That's an awesome and impressive facility at NCSU !

  • james27613 Mar 16, 2011

    Finally they have an expert that knows what he is talking about.

    Two days ago, Fox news anchor made statements that you either burn coal or uranium to make the steam for the turbine generator.

    CNN reporter used graphic and called the containment building that was damaged 'the reactor vessel'.

    Keep the people of Japan in your thoughts.