A visit to Australia’s nuclear reactor

ANSTO reactorLast week I accompanied my kids on a tour of the ANSTO facility at Lucas Heights.  It was a great tour, very informative and an insight into what goes on behind the scenes – but, it must be said, it was a bit of a tease because we never got to see the reactor.

The tour was designed to show students the sort of careers in science available with ANSTO and the pathways to actually becoming a scientist. From that point of view it was a great way of getting students who are enthusiastic about science on a useful track.

A couple of interesting factoids from the slices of life we saw include that there is very little nuclear science being done – the scientists are using the reactor for a variety of other sciences rather than developing it – and once you join somewhere like ANSTO there are many career paths beyond your core studies. What we saw definitely left a flavour that this was more applied science and engineering than research science. It also drove home again what a wide-ranging field science has become.

ANSTO has a lot of cool-looking equipment on display and you certainly get some feel for the breadth of their activities. Sadly, though, the closest you come to seeing the reactor itself is having the guide control a camera view from a nearby room. While understandable, it’s impossible not to find that a bit disappointing, especially if you have a student who’s interested in nuclear reactors. That said, there’s more than enough other high-tech equipment on display to keep most people happy; and the guides certainly know what they are talking about being seemingly capable to fielding any question.

ANSTO runs a range of tours for all ages. If the one we did is anything to go by they are interesting and informative and certainly give an insight into the valuable work being done by ANSTO and how important it is that we have a nuclear facility in Australia. And while ‘they would say that wouldn’t they?’ may immediately jump to mind, you just need to think through what a difference having access to short-lived medical isotopes makes to see what an impact having our own reactor has.

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