MCMASTER’S NUCLEAR REACTOR


nuclear reactor

Although there’s so much to discover outside of McMaster, there are also some hidden gems on campus that very few people visit. McMaster’s Nuclear Reactor (MNR) is one of them. This year, I’m a TA for an Arts & Science course that has a field trip to the nuclear reactor, so in the past two weeks I’ve taken a tour of the reactor three times…by this point, it’s safe to say that I’m an expert of all things MNR!

McMaster’s Nuclear Reactor opened in 1959 and is used to make the  isotope iodine-125, which is used to treat prostate cancer. It looks like something right out of a sci fi movie, and I also think it would be a great place to have a haunted house during Halloween…but that’s definitely not allowed!

You may be wondering, what would happen if there was an earthquake, or some other sort of emergency situation? The building was built with 15 sides, so that in case of an earthquake, the odd number of sides would result in destructive interference and cancel out the effects of an earth tremor. Also, the doors of the reactor have an air lock with negative pressure, so that the radiation is contained inside the reactor and would not be able to escape to the outer surroundings.

Rather than explaining the science (which, to be honest, I don’t quite understand…) or talking about their experiments (the tour guides can do a much better job of explaining them!) I thought I would just tell you about the coolest parts of the reactor. First of all, moon rocks were brought to the reactor and analyzed. It turns out they weren’t composed of anything special, and they were pretty much just regular rocks. The reactor also has an industrial hot cell that is designed for working with large quantities of radioactive materials. Work is conducted using mechanical arms behind a one meter thick lead and oiled lined glass window.

If you want to experience the sci fi-esque reactor for yourself, want to learn more about the science behind nuclear reactors, or want to hear about the experiments being conducted at the MNR, tours of the reactor are free and open to everyone! Make sure to check it out – I think it’s pretty awesome. 

 

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