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I WANT to build a nuclear reactor.

  1. May 6, 2007 #1
    Ok so I know that this seems like an absolutely absurd and almost impossible idea but I want to build a nuclear reactor to enter in the state science fair next year.

    I know that it takes time, wit and money but I'm completely prepared to take on the challenge.

    So the point of posting this bulletin is to call on the help of the wonderful members of this Physics Forum.

    I need to be enlightened.
    Help me.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 6, 2007 #2
    I'm usually very supportive of ambitious projects but honestly, choose something else to do. The litigation is too much and the safety and security is nothing a single person can handle.
  4. May 7, 2007 #3
    Do google "build your own nuclear reactor".

    will give you lots of hits.

    but the thing is, how are u getting hold of radioactive materials?

    I would recommend building a cyclotron or an accelerator, which could actually work pretty much better than an entire reactor...
  5. May 7, 2007 #4
    If you're in the US, whatever you end up building (whether a reactor or cyclotron), if it has the potential to produce ionizing radiation, it will require a radioactive materials license which can be quite expensive depending on where you live. The licensing requires that you have a radiation protection program, are qualified by education and experience to possess radioactive materials or radiation producing machines, etc. As was stated, you're probably better off trying something else. Unless, of course, you mean you want a non-working model of a reactor, in which case it's doable, though still quite an undertaking.
  6. May 7, 2007 #5


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    I'm sorry - but a reactor is NOT a suitable "science fair" project.

    If you had the technical accumen to handle this project, you would be working for a
    reactor manufacturer or at a national lab; not entering a science fair.

    Additionally, it would be illegal for you to build a reactor. In order to build a reactor, you
    have to have a license from the USA's Nuclear Regulatory Commission. They will want
    copious amounts of documentation on the safety of the reactor design. As a
    requirement under the Price-Anderson Law, you would need to buy insurance from the
    federal government, the minimum yearly premium is $2 Million.

    Owning a nuclear reactor is a financial stretch even for a University. In fact, many
    Universities have shutdown their reactors because it became too expensive; the
    University of Michigan is one such case that comes to mind.

    Building a reactor as a science fair project would be like building a jet airliner as a
    science fair project; it's way too ambitious.

    Set your sights on something more reasonable; you'll learn more, and have more fun.

    Good luck.

    Dr. Gregory Greenman
  7. May 7, 2007 #6


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    I like the suggestion of "daveb" - that you make a model of a reactor.

    That way you can learn about them; without having the daunting challege of producing
    a working reactor. You could have a little model with control rods that you could withdraw
    by hand; and that would cause a light bulb to go on/off. Put some type of blue filter
    surrounding the light bulb to give the appearance of the blue Chrenkov radiation emitted
    by an operating reactor:



    http://www.mne.ksu.edu/research/centers/reactor/Reactor Facilities/

    There are lots and lots of books on nuclear reactors. You might also check to see if
    any University in your region has a nuclear research reactor that you could tour.

    Good luck with the science project.

    Dr. Gregory Greenman
    Last edited: May 7, 2007
  8. May 7, 2007 #7


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    I concur with Morbius.

    One needs a license to purchase or obtain and use "Special Nuclear Material" (in this case fissile material), and sorry, but students do not qualify. It takes years to get a license, and the NRC is not about to expedite one's application. It also takes years to become qualified to what one proposes.

    NO - it is an absolutely absurd and impossible idea.

    Best just to build a model as Morbius suggests.
  9. May 12, 2007 #8
    What about a fusor? Those can produce neutrons and plenty of x-rays and I don't think they are illiegal...

    The construction of a farnsworth fusor wouldn't be absurd and can achieve nuclear fusion (even better than fission!). A hand full of amateurs have successfully built working (fusing) fusors in this country, including some very young people (well, not 6 year-olds). This would be an ambitious, but doable project IMHO.

    You could also built a fusor demonstrator, a far less dangerous and costly version of the real thing, that would none-the-less show the principles behind electrostatic confinement. Basically you need a vacuum chamber and vacuum pump, a high voltage power supply, some stainless steel wire to make your anode and cathodes, and the knowledge to put it together.

    What do the rest of you think?

  10. May 12, 2007 #9


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    If it produces ionizing radiation, then YES - IT IS ILLEGAL!!!!

    You have to be licensed by the NRC to operate an X-ray machine,
    an accelerator, or possess a radioisotope.

    This is the only way that one can be sure that someone isn't producing
    radiation that is irradiating unspecting people because the operator of
    the source didn't consider proper shieldig....

    If you don't know the laws, please refrain from giving advice to yourg
    students who may follow it and get into trouble.

    Dr. Gregory Greenman
  11. May 12, 2007 #10


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    I'm surprised that no one has mentioned the rather obvious problem with this:

    Even in the preliminary steps of designing and creating this, you will acquire the full and complete attention of several branches of government including the FBI and DND as a "person of interest."
  12. May 12, 2007 #11


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    Yes - the creation of a source of ionizing radiation is something that a terrorist; either
    foreign or domestic; might try to accomplish for the purpose of terrorizing the populace.

    Therefore, it is quite reasonable for the FBI and Homeland Security to be on the look-out
    for any activities of this type.

    Dr. Gregory Greenman
  13. May 12, 2007 #12


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    Even more surprising is the fact that most science fairs have explicit rules about things like nuclear material, human tissue samples, etc.You might want to look them up. Chances are, you'll never be able to get anything resembling a "homemade nuclear reactor" in the door, and you might well be disqualified.

    You do not have the education required to safely handle radioactive material. You should not even be attempting this, since it will endanger your life and the lives of everyone around you.

    If you want to be ambitious, try building something just as complex but less dangerous, like a linear particle accelerator.

    - Warren
  14. May 12, 2007 #13


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    Yeah, I built one of them last weekend. Made it completely out of MDF, amazing what you can do in a garden shed...:rolleyes:
  15. May 12, 2007 #14
    Next time try it with your garden hose and aluminum foil works much better :rofl:
  16. May 12, 2007 #15


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    The AEC (predecessor to NRC and DOE) used to have authority for regulation of X-ray devices, but it was moved under HHS/FDA. Nevertheless, anything that produces ionizing radiation is regulated and one must comply with Federal and State laws. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. States have an office which regulates manufacture and use of devices, which produce ionizing radiation, so one should check with one's state government.
  17. May 12, 2007 #16


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    Hey, don't laugh. All you really need is a cavity, a Sears vacuum pump, and some relatively simple electronics. I'm not talking about MeV here, but a couple of hundred eV would be attainable, and measurable.

    - Warren
  18. May 12, 2007 #17
  19. May 12, 2007 #18


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    Yes - I read about him while visiting my home town of Rochester Hills, Michigan:


    This student attended the same school district that I attended. In fact, his school,
    Stoney Creek High School; is about a mile from the neighborhood that I spent my
    childhood years.

    http://www.rochester.k12.mi.us/index.asp?school=23&name=Stoney Creek High School

    Stoney Creek, the third high school in the system was not part of the district when I attended high
    school. I'm a member of the 2nd graduating class of the district's 2nd high school; Rochester Adams Senior High.
    [ For you pop music fans - that's Madonna's alma mater. ]


    http://www.rochester.k12.mi.us/index.asp?school=22&name=Adams High School

    Dr. Gregory Greenman
    Last edited: May 13, 2007
  20. May 14, 2007 #19
    Whoa... a particle accelerator in your garage? whoa! thats so cool...:approve:

    Can you send me a link where they show you how to do it hoot? would appreciate it much...:rolleyes:

    And the guy who built the fusion reactor... Anyone know what became of him? what does he do now? thats so cool man... a custom made fusion reactor... :approve:
  21. May 14, 2007 #20
    If it is illegal (a fusor), then apparently nobody cares, considering I have recently read about a teenager who built a fusor being profiled in popular science or mechanics. If it was a bust your door down offense then I doubt they would have published the article and not mentioned his arrest as a terrorist.

    From fusor.net:

    Notice the people who won money and scholarships with their neutron producing fusor.

    It is a perfectly viable project for anyone ambitious enough to tackle it.

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