N.C. State University officials say they have patched up a leak that shut down the campus nuclear reactor nearly three weeks ago.
The small research reactor had been leaking about 10 gallons of water an hour from a 15,600-gallon pool used to cool the superheated reactor core and radioactive fuel rods. Total leakage came to about 3,500 gallons.
The leaking water was tainted with radioactivity but posed no public health risk, university officials said. The water was presumed to flow through the Burlington Nuclear Engineering Laboratory on campus and into the ground below.
N.C. State spokesman Keith Nichols said scientists first found the microscopic leak July 12 using acoustic equipment, then patched it with epoxy the next day. The reactor is now operating at 90 percent power capacity.
The university had shut down the reactor only as a precaution even though the research facility could have continued operating, officials said.
The 39-year-old reactor is used primarily to study the properties of thin films, concrete and other materials by exposing them to subatomic particles. The facility is used by university employees, experimenters and students.
N.C. State's Pulsar reactor generates 1 megawatt of power, a fraction of the power capacity of the 900-megawatt Shearon Harris nuclear plant operated by Progress Energy in Wake County.
The Pulsar is N.C. State's fourth nuclear reactor, dating back to the beginning of the program in 1950.
The pool that sprang the leak is 26.5 feet deep and is used to cool the reactor core, which heats to 273 degrees Fahrenheit during a nuclear reaction.