Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's)
What is the research reactor in Delft used for?
This research reactor is used for scientific research and to educate students. Using radiation and nuclear techniques, we carry out research in Delft in the fields of health, materials and energy.
This allows us to do research that is not possible with other techniques.
Facts & Figures
We have 180 (fte) employees.
Of these, about 70 are PhD students & Post Docs.
We provide more than 100 top scientific publications every year
The reactor is 2.3 MW and consumes 2.5 grams (two-and-a-half) of low-enriched uranium on a daily basis
In addition, around 1,000 participants take training courses at Radiation Education every year.
What is the difference between a research reactor and a nuclear power plant?
Research reactors are accessible for research and therefore operate at low temperature and pressure. They are not used to generate electricity, but to harness the radiation released in nuclear fission for teaching and research. Also, the power output of a research reactor is a small fraction of that of nuclear power plants.
Instead, reactors of a nuclear power plant operate at high temperature and high pressure to produce electrical energy efficiently. In fact, a nuclear power plant is designed to produce electrical energy. By comparison, the Borssele nuclear power plant has a capacity of about 1500 MW (megawatts; 1 megawatt is 1 million watts). The reactor in Delft is more than 500 times smaller.
What can you investigate with a research reactor?
With radiation from the reactor and special nuclear measuring techniques, we carry out research in the fields of health, materials and energy in Delft. Examples include research into medical isotopes for diagnosis and treatment of cancer, the structure of food (e.g. meat substitutes and vegetable milk) and advanced materials (e.g. self-healing materials for aerospace, solar cells, batteries and materials for the hydrogen economy).
Can't this research be done in a different way?
The reactor offers research opportunities that are unique. We can look inside materials without damaging the objects and structures. This can be done at the very smallest scale. For example, we do research on batteries while they are in use, so we get a good picture of how batteries behave in practice. Because we use neutrons or positrons to look inside materials, our research produces results that cannot be measured by other methods.
You can think of research into new methods for diagnosis and treatment of cancer in which medical isotopes play an important role. This also involves developing a new method of producing these medical isotopes and producing medical isotopes on a commercial basis for the treatment of liver cancer.
Different types of radiation such as neutrons and positrons are used to study the internal structure of materials. Properties of materials are often determined by their internal structure and by studying them from nanometre (a billionth of a metre 1×10-⁹ m) to millimetre scale, we can understand them better and use that knowledge to improve materials. Among other things, we research self-healing materials, improvement of Li-ion batteries, solar cells, magnetic materials for new generation refrigerators and heat pumps, healthier and sustainable food. We also research objects that are part of our cultural heritage, such as a 3,000-year-old sword and microscopes made by Antoni van Leeuwenhoek. We also research materials for new-generation nuclear reactors.
We explore opportunities to accelerate the energy transition. For instance, we work on improving solar cells, batteries and materials for heat pumps and for the hydrogen economy. In the field of nuclear energy, we research safer and more sustainable nuclear reactors .
Our teaching activities include the training of our bachelor and master students and PhD students. We also provide a wide range of courses in the fields of nuclear measurement techniques and radiation hygiene. This makes us the largest body in the Netherlands that trains professionals, such as firefighters, police and hospital staff, to handle radiation safely.
What kind of reactor is it?
It is called a small pool reactor. Small because its capacity is 2.3 MW and it contains little uranium, and pool because the reactor core is placed in a water basin, so researchers and operators can access it easily while the water still shields radiation very well. By comparison, the Borssele plant has a thermal capacity of 1500 MW (megawatts; 1 megawatt is 1 million watts).
Who supervises safety?
We work according to applicable laws and regulations and are regularly monitored and assessed by the Dutch Nuclear Safety and Radiation Protection Authority (ANVS) (the Netherlands) and international organisations including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
What is the difference between natural radiation and radiation you make?
Everyone in the Netherlands is exposed to radiation from the ground and from space. We call that natural radiation. There is no difference in the properties of the radiation, only in its origin. For more information on natural radiation: https://www.rivm.nl/straling-en-radioactiviteit/straling-van-natuurlijke-oorsprong. Outside the reactor institute, the level of radiation coming from our reactor is zero.
What happens to radioactive waste?
This waste is collected, processed and stored in a professional, safe way. In the Netherlands, the Central Organisation for Radioactive Waste (COVRA) is responsible for this.