Purdue University Starts Research on Reliability of Nation's First Digital Nuclear Reactor

Up until now, nuclear reactors in America have used analog technology.
Fabienne Lang

Purdue University is home of the nation's first digital nuclear reactor, named Purdue University Reactor Number One (PUR-1). It is licensed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The University will support scientific partnerships for this first-of-its-kind digital reactor.


What is different about PUR-1?

PUR-1 is the United States' first digital nuclear reactor. Before its conversion from analog to digital, all reactors in the nation functioned with analog technology such as vacuum tubes and hand-soldered wires. 

Purdue University will serve as a test site for the nuclear reactor in order for researchers to find out just how reliable and resilient a digitally-run reactor is. 

Purdue University Starts Research on Reliability of Nation's First Digital Nuclear Reactor
Participating in the dedication of PUR-1 were, from left, Purdue President Mitch Daniels; Annie Caputo, commissioner of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission; Suzanne Jaworowski, senior advisor, Office of Nuclear Energy, U.S. Department of Energy; and Mung Chiang, Purdue’s John A. Edwardson Dean of the College of Engineering. Source: Rebecca Wilcox/Purdue University.

"As the United States and the world continue to implement digital technology, that introduces both strengths and vulnerabilities that need to be explored and understood because our economy relies on the resiliency of these systems," said Clive Townsend, who is the supervisor of PUR-1. 

It won't just be scientists and engineers from Purdue University leading the research, they are inviting partnerships "that could be private, other universities or national labs – to explore how we can leverage the strengths of digital systems in order to ensure reliability," continued Townsend

Currently, Purdue University has already partnered with Mirion Technologies, a company that specializes in nuclear measurement and detection, to create the reactor's detectors. Together, the team is testing how the detectors in the reactor perform in numerous environments. 

PUR-1 also helping push forward education

Not merely used for research purposes, the reactor is also used for teaching, ranging from disciplines in the political science field to mechanical engineering. 

Townsend said that thousands of students ranging from high school to Boy Scouts visit the nuclear reactor each year. 

"We’re seeing renewed interest by members of the public and future students, as well as collaborations in private and public sectors, to use this small reactor for a variety of purposes, including detector characterization and new outreach capabilities across both the U.S. and the world," Townsend said. "It’s really breathed new life, as well as new research capabilities."

PUR-1 was converted from an analog operating system to a digital one in 2016.

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