By Katie JeffreysBy Katie Jeffreys
During this week in 1956, the MIT nuclear reactor was approved to be built in Cambridge. Built to further nuclear “research and education in peaceful uses of the atom” [“Reactor Cost Is Set At Two Million; Unique Form For Medical Research,” May 11, 1956].
The reactor set several precedents including being the first one in New England. The revolutionary design also included a medical treatment room which allowed a beam of neutrons to be directed at a patient on a table below.
Not only were medical applications possible, but the reactor also offered the opportunity to research sterilization possibilities, mechanical wear, and the structure of matter. The effects of radiation on chemical reactions, materials, along with the causes of biological mutation could be studied.
The reactor is made of a “cylindrical steel shell, 70 feet in diameter, with a steel dome rising 50 feet above street level.” Inside this shell will be a 15 foot high structure with a 21 foot diameter. made of layers of steel, lead and concrete. Inside are 10,000 pounds of heavy water which reflect or absorb the radioactive particles. Both the water and uranium-235 fuel were donated by the Atomic Energy Commission.
According to the reactor homepage <http://web.mit.edu/nrl/www/>, it “continues to serve the research, teaching, and radioisotope needs of MIT and the surrounding community” The page states that “as the MITR-I, it operated routinely on a 24 hours per day schedule from July 1959 until May of 1974, when it was shut down for modification and overhaul. These were completed in 1976, and the MITR-II is now in routine, 24 hours per day operation.”