# I WANT to build a nuclear reactor.

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.

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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.

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...

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.

Morbius
Dearly Missed
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.
Amber,

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 Physicist Morbius Science Advisor Dearly Missed 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. Amber, 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://web.mit.edu/nrl/www/reactor/core_description.htm http://nscr.tamu.edu/ [Broken] http://www.mne.ksu.edu/research/centers/reactor/Reactor%20Facilities/ [Broken] 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 Physicist Last edited by a moderator: Astronuc Staff Emeritus Science Advisor 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. seems like an absolutely absurd and almost impossible idea NO - it is an absolutely absurd and impossible idea. Best just to build a model as Morbius suggests. 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. 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? -Alan Morbius Science Advisor Dearly Missed What about a fusor? Those can produce neutrons and plenty of x-rays and I don't think they are illiegal... Alan, 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 Physicist DaveC426913 Gold Member 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." Morbius Science Advisor Dearly Missed 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." Dave, 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 Physicist chroot Staff Emeritus Science Advisor Gold Member 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 Hootenanny Staff Emeritus Science Advisor Gold Member If you want to be ambitious, try building something just as complex but less dangerous, like a linear particle accelerator. Yeah, I built one of them last weekend. Made it completely out of MDF, amazing what you can do in a garden shed... Yeah, I built one of them last weekend. Made it completely out of MDF, amazing what you can do in a garden shed... Next time try it with your garden hose and aluminum foil works much better :rofl: Astronuc Staff Emeritus Science Advisor Under the Radiation Control for Health and Safety Act, the Public Service Act, and the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, the Assistant Secretary for Health in the Department of Health in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) (which has been delegated to the Food and Drug Administration), was given the responsibility to develop a program of radiation protection which, in part, included research and training concerning radiation hazards, recommendations for radiation users, advice to States, information for the public, performance standards for electronic products that emit radiation, and regulations for the sale, distribution, and use of medical devices. These programs are described in 21 CFR 1000 to 21 CFR 1050. Additional information may also be found on the Center for Devices and Radiological Control Web site. http://hps.org/publicinformation/ate/q2547.html [Broken] http://www.fda.gov/cdrh/radhealth/products/xrayparticulate.html [Broken] 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. Last edited by a moderator: chroot Staff Emeritus Science Advisor Gold Member Yeah, I built one of them last weekend. Made it completely out of MDF, amazing what you can do in a garden shed... 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 Morbius Science Advisor Dearly Missed The ITER Newsline recently referenced a high schooler who built a machine that causes fusion. Candyman, Yes - I read about him while visiting my home town of Rochester Hills, Michigan: http://research.lifeboat.com/teen.goes.nuclear.htm 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://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rochester_Adams_High_School http://www.rochester.k12.mi.us/index.asp?school=22&name=Adams High School Dr. Gregory Greenman Physicist Last edited by a moderator: Whoa... a particle accelerator in your garage? whoa! thats so cool... Can you send me a link where they show you how to do it hoot? would appreciate it much... 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... Alan, 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 Physicist 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: "The Neutron Club" These people have operated a neutron producing fusor or fusion system. (normally d-d fusion): Richard Hull - 10e5 neutron mark 3/99 Scott Little Joe Zambelli - Half mega mark 12/01 Tom Ligon Michael Li - winner$75k Intel scholarship (fusor)
Mike Amann
Jon Rosenstiel - Mega neutron mark 10e6 11/02
Gerardo Meiro - First non-US neutron Club member
Phillip Fostini
Carl Willis - advanced activation work
Larry Leins - pulsed fusor work
Craig Wallace - winner $1.5k Intel 2nd place (Fusor) Frank Sanns Brian McDermott Fergus Noble & Henry Hallam - first UK neutron members Adam Parker - winner of$10k Alabama scholarship in science
Mark Langdon
Thiago Olson
Wayne Rodgers
Eric Stroud
Wilfried Heil & Noemi Zudor - Smallest fusor ~3" diameter
Raymond Jimenez
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.

-Alan

Well, whether it's illegal or not depends on a few things. If the levels of radiation are low enough, the fusor may not require a license. Since radiation producing machines and accelerator produced material are regulated by the state regulatory agencies it would depend on the state the person lives. I believe Wyoming, e.g., doesn't really have any operating regulatory agency (or at least not one that regulates nuclear pharmacies). As for any material, if the activity is below the exempted quantity, then anyone can possess it (e.g., no one needs a license for Cs-137 in activity less than 10 microcuries). I couldn't find information on neutron source strength for a fusor, but if it's low enough, the regulatory agency won't be concerned about it.

Morbius
Dearly Missed
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.
Alan,

There was a case a few years ago of a teenager who was attempting to build a nuclear
reactor by assembling a bunch of radioactive material that he obtained by opening the
sealed sources inside home smoke-detectors, for example.

When it was ultimately found out what the teenager was doing, the autorities did check out
his work and found that he had contaiminated his garage, his home, and his school with
radioactivity. Clean-up crews had to come in and decontaminate the mess that this
teenager made. Because nobody discouraged this teenager from conducting his ill
conceived science project, many people were exposed to radioactivity that they should
not have been exposed to, as well as the large cost of cleaning up a radioactive
mess.

Independent of what the law says, I hesistate to recommend a project that involves
potentially harmful activities to a student that I don't know. The teenager in Michigan
evidently pulled off this project successfully. That doesn't mean any teenager can do
the same.

I think it would be irresponsible to recommend a potentially harmful project to a student
that I didn't know well and knew that they had the technical acumen and maturity to
handle the project.

Dr. Gregory Greenman
Physicist

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Morbius
Dearly Missed
And the guy who built the fusion reactor... Anyone know what became of him? what does he do now? thats so cool man...
Thinker,

The November 2006 article I posted from the Detroit Free Press listed him as a 17 year
old high schoold student. I would assume that he's finishing his senior year in high school.

I wouldn't call the "fusor" a "fusion reactor". The amount of energy that one gets from the
fusion reactions is dwarfed by the amount of energy one has to put into the device in the
form of electricity to make it operate.

The fusor is a little neutron-producing accelerator. Science has known how to do that
for decades. Accelerating particles enough to cause fusion isn't all that tricky. One
will find little neutron pulse generators such as these in practically any nuclear lab.
[ The "Neutron Club" that Alan mentions includes THOUSANDS of university students
that have taken nuclear laboratory courses. ]

The real problem is how to create fusion and come out with a net production of energy.
THEN you will have a device that deserves to be called a "reactor".

Dr. Gregory Greenman
Physicist

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NateTG
Homework Helper
I wouldn't call the "fusor" a "fusion reactor". The amount of energy that one gets from the
fusion reactions is dwarfed by the amount of energy one has to put into the device in the
form of electricity to make it operate.

The fusor is a little neutron-producing accelerator. Science has known how to do that
for decades. Accelerating particles enough to cause fusion isn't all that tricky. One
will find little neutron pulse generators such as these in practically any nuclear lab.

The real problem is how to create fusion and come out with a net production of energy.
THEN you will have a device that deserves to be called a "reactor".
Although I understand that that's a mainstream notion, it seems rather odd to me to require that a 'fusion reactor' release net useful energy, while there are plenty of examples of 'reactors' that don't ranging from the Princeton tokomak test reactor, to chemical reaction vessels, to the infamous scavenger hunt breeder reactor build in the 1999 University of Chicago scavenger hunt, or the more famous pile that was set up there at Stagg field in 1942. Moreover, fusors do, in fact, release energy, so an (admittedly highly unlikely) improvement in energy capturing technology would move them from 'not nuclear reactors' to 'nuclear reactors' which strikes me as rather odd.

Honestly, I don't think that a fusor is a particularly good idea for a high school science experiment. There are hazards from high voltage and radiation (if you actually get it up and running), and they're likely to be expensive (in the thousands of dollars.) Meanwhile, there are plenty of easier, more original, and more practical experiments possible.

Astronuc
Staff Emeritus
Moreover, fusors do, in fact, release energy, so an (admittedly highly unlikely) improvement in energy capturing technology would move them from 'not nuclear reactors' to 'nuclear reactors' which strikes me as rather odd.
A pot of boiling water releases energy, but not more than is added.

A fusor does not produce much more energy than put in.

Say this kid got 1 million neutrons (IIRC, the article claimed 200 K) and assuming that is half of the reactions, there would be 2 million reactions producing about 4 MeV/reaction for simplicity.

2 million reactions * 4 MeV/reaction * 1.602 x 10-13 J/MeV = 1.282 x 10-6 J

If the student applied, let's say 10 kW for 1 s, then the system used 10 KJ.

Now compare 10 kJ with about 1 micro-J. How practical is that for an energy source?

Fusors are fancy neutron generators, not energy sources.