Reactors as Research Tools

The Brookhaven Graphite Research Reactor (BGRR) was the Laboratory's first big machine and the first peace-time reactor to be constructed in the United States following World War II. The reactor's primary mission was to produce neutrons for scientific experimentation and refine reactor technology. 

Scientists look on as the BGRR achieves criticality for the first time in 1950.

At its inception, the BGRR could accommodate more simultaneous experiments than any other existing reactor. Scientists and engineers from every corner of the U.S. came to use the reactor, which was not only a source of neutrons for experiments, but also an excellent training facility.

Researchers used the BGRR's neutrons as tools for studying atomic nuclei and the structure of solids, and to investigate many physical, chemical and biological systems. Scientists also studied the effects of radiation on materials. An estimated 25,000 irradiations were performed over the reactor's lifetime, on specimens ranging from seeds to art treasures.

Neutrons produced by the reactor also served as probes, to study the structure and behavior of other materials. "Loop" experiments were another important area of research, in which measurements were made of the radiation-induced changes in the properties of liquids and gases as they flowed through the reactor. Radioactive isotopes produced at the BGRR were especially useful in medical diagnosis and therapy and in industrial technology.

By 1955 it was clear that the neutron fluxes available at the BGRR and at research reactors elsewhere were not high enough to support proposed experiments. By 1958, a new reactor concept designed at Brookhaven had been approved by the Atomic Energy Commission for construction. This would become the High Flux Beam Reactor.

> Continue on to the High Flux Beam Reactor...

BGRR at night

The BGRR during night time operation.

Cutting BGRR Graphite

Read a reminiscence by BNL retiree Tyrell Wilson, Jr. who worked on the construction of the BGRR.

Tyrell Wilson

Did you know?

Engine piston rings were studied in the BGRR to determine wear and other characteristics. This work led to the development of common automotive multi-grade motor oils, such as 10W-30.

Technetium-99m, the world's most widely used radioisotope for diagnosing diseased organs, was developed at the BGRR. BNL scientists Walter Tucker and Powell Richards later perfected the development of the technetium-99m generator.

The design of the BGRR (below) was based o a similar reactor in Oak Ridge, Tennessee called the X-10, the second reactor ever built.

Other Reactors

Brookhaven Graphite Research Reactor

High Flux Beam Reactor

Medical Research Reactor