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Inside the Reactor

The reactor building is divided into two sections — an external portion where the offices and basic training facilities are kept, and the containment chamber, the domed building that surrounds the reactor itself.

It is strangely eerie inside the containment chamber. From the inside, the building seems larger than it does from the outside. The room is painted mostly in pale blue, like the color on the building’s exterior. It is lit artificially and hums constantly with the sound of mechanical activity.

Inside the containment chamber, everyone must wear a dosimeter to measure any radiation exposure. Upon leaving, two Geiger counters are used to confirm the readings by the dosimeter. Operators at the reactor are exposed to very low dosages under normal operating conditions, well under the mandated maximum exposure.

An airlock separates the containment chamber from the rest of the facility. The containment chamber is kept at low pressure so that if any leaks were to occur, air would rush in, not out. To enter the airlock, operators must be approved by a newly installed iris scanner.

Inside the perimeter of the containment chamber there are multiple meters to make sure all levels of radiation and air circulation are appropriate. There are dampers in the ventilation system that will shut off all outward airflow if heightened levels of radiation are detected.

Inside the control room, the hub of operator activity when running the reactor, there is an almost overwhelming number of controls. The walls of the room from nearly floor to ceiling are covered with video monitors, results from various meters, panels of control buttons, and large displays of alarms. Everything about the reactor can be monitored from the control room, and at all times the reactor is running, there is at least one person inside.

Safety issues are accounted for in the design: “It [would be] really hard for me to make a mistake that would result in radioactive threats,” Sarah H. Don ’13 said, because of the redundancy in security.

— Margaret Cunniff