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4 Facilities and Human Resources The NIST Center for Neutron Research has been an extremely reliable and comprehensive neutron scattering facility and will continue to be a vital resource for meeting the broad spectrum of users’ scientific objectives and needs for neutron scattering in the future. The NCNR reactor’s operation has continued to perform outstandingly well, with 253 days of availability out of a possible 255 days in the past year. The beam delivery is almost twice that of any other U.S. facility. With this availability, coupled with the number of competitive instruments, the NCNR provides half of all scattering instrument days in the United States and serves about 800 individual users each year―about twice as many as the other U.S. facilities combined. These ratios are likely to change in the near future as the High Flux Isotope Reactor begins to operate a full user program and the Spallation Neutron Source comes up to full capabilities. With the NCNR Expansion Project and judicious selection of new instruments and upgrades, the NCNR is well positioned to continue to serve a leading role in neutron scattering in the future. The NCNR’s management of reactor operations, maintenance, and equipment updating is consistently carried out with careful attention in order to ensure a high level of availability of the facility to users. The two NCNR operational groups, the Research Facility Operations Division and the Reactor Operations Engineering Division, meet prior to each shutdown to discuss the coordination required for maintenance activities. In addition, another group has been meeting to plan the activities that will take place before, during, and after the long shutdown required for the NCNR expansion. The plans for installation of the new reactor control panel appear well under control, with careful consideration given to minimizing the downtime of the NCNR. All necessary components will be in hand prior to the shutdown to ensure that there are no delays involving delivery of components. Although the HFIR and SNS will be able to accommodate additional users during NCNR downtime, users will, nevertheless, be greatly constrained during this time. The lean and economical management style of the NCNR Reactor Operations Engineering Division has served the facility and its users well over the years. The safety record throughout that time has been excellent, and safety is a major component of the relicensing process that is nearing completion. With the facility expansion, the installation of a new cold source and guide system, and upgrade projects, two new operators have been hired, and two additional hires are planned. Management is mindful of the need for succession planning to prepare for the retirement of the group leader and reactor lead. It appears that the need expressed in previous NRC assessment reports for additional human resources has been addressed. In addition, a novel and cost-effective solution has been proposed to fix the thermal shield and leak problem. However, additional financial resources are needed to address other challenges in the area of facility operations successfully. For the most part, major NCNR budget increases have been directed toward user support and instrumentation. While operations have been adequately supported, as evidenced by the excellent reliability, increased costs of reactor fuel have not yet been adjusted for. The potential for a long shutdown in the event of a safety shim arm failure represents a very significant concern. No spares are available at the facility, and the lead time 12
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for a replacement is 8 months. Such a failure and an associated long, unplanned shutdown would be extremely detrimental to the neutron scattering capabilities in the United States and would damage the stellar reliability record of the NCNR. A number of hires have been made to increase staffing at the NCNR in support of the Expansion Project: three engineers have been hired to carry out the mechanical design of new neutron scattering instruments and procurements of various components, and to help with non- expansion-related activities such as maintenance and improvements of existing instruments; one new staff member will work on instrument control software development; and four administrative hires will focus on tasks such as logistics, procurements, fiscal planning, and tracking. An additional engineer will likely be hired in the near term to help with instrument assembly. One area of potential weakness is electrical engineering technical support. If possible, a further hire in this area would strengthen the team assembled. There is also need for funds to hire additional staff to run the suite of new instruments and to provide support to the increased number of users that will come to the facility to make use of these instruments. These hires will be crucial for maintaining the excellence of the user program and the scientific output of the facility. 13