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Perfetti receives Department of Energy funding to explore physics of UNM’s nuclear reactor

August 3, 2021 - by Kim Delker

photo of Christopher Perfetti
Christopher Perfetti

Christopher Perfetti, assistant professor in The University of New Mexico Department of Nuclear Engineering, has received funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for a project to explore the physics behind UNM’s nuclear reactor.

The project, “Documenting the Unique Physics Properties of the UNM AGN-201M Reactor,” was funded under the Nuclear Energy Research and Development Program (NEUP) of the DOE. The total amount of the award is $400,000.

The three-year project begins Oct. 1, 2021, and ends Sept. 30, 2024.

UNM’s Aerojet General Nucleonics Model 201 (AGN-201M) is one of four operating AGN-201M reactors in the world and provides UNM nuclear engineering students with invaluable educational resources.

Perfetti said the main goal of the project is to enhance the coverage of nuclear engineering benchmark experiment libraries by developing a benchmark evaluation for the UNM AGN-201M reactor.

“If successful, this work will produce a high-fidelity benchmark evaluation for an operating research reactor with unique reactor physics characteristics and will assist nuclear engineers with validating and licensing next-generation reactor design and nuclear fuel production facilities,” Perfetti said.

UNM’s reactor has a long history. The reactor was manufactured in the late 1950s and first had a home at the University of California, Berkeley. When the university decided to buy a new reactor, UNM was able to broker a deal to have the teaching reactor brought to UNM for merely the cost of the shipping.

The reactor landed on campus in the summer of 1966, assembled and housed in what was then the mechanical engineering building (located between what is now the Centennial Engineering Center and the Mechanical Engineering Building).

About three years later, the reactor was moved into the nuclear engineering lab, where it resides today. In 2019, UNM celebrated the 50th anniversary of the reactor going “critical” (meaning it was brought to a steady power level) for the first time in its current location.