The nuclear reactor on which the NCNR depends is 50 years old, and as a matter of simple prudence, a plan needs to be developed that will ensure that NCNR users have the neutrons they need into the indefinite future. In June 2017, the NCNR issued a report describing the results of a brief study of the following available options: (1) continued operation of the existing reactor, (2) upgrade of that reactor, and (3) its complete replacement. This report needs to be updated and a much more detailed plan developed. Options 1 and 2 are inferior to Option 3. The NCNR report indicated that Option 3 is likely to cost about $1 billion and take more than 15 years to complete. A project of this magnitude will not be undertaken without a substantial planning effort and support from the neutron and the general scientific communities. An advantage of building a new reactor is that the current reactor could continue running, and thus serve the user community, while the new reactor is being built. If Option 1 were to be pursued, the United States will become increasingly noncompetitive internationally. If Option 2 were chosen, user services will be interrupted for at least 2 years, risking permanent loss of the user community.
The reactor is 50 years old. Loss of this facility would have a strongly negative impact on neutron science within the United States and the scientific disciplines that CNR serves.
RECOMMENDATION: The NCNR should commission a detailed assessment of the current facility and begin the conceptual design of a new reactor. NCNR would do well to elaborate a systematic succession plan in concert with NIST leadership.
While external reviews of the NCNR that are conducted less frequently than annually have been and continue to be useful, they do not provide sufficiently current or detailed evaluations and tracking of the center’s technical and operational issues. In particular, there is no apparent formal, regular assessment connecting the NCNR to NIST overall and to the NIST Visiting Committee on Advanced Technology (VCAT) in particular. External reviews of the NCNR consisting of scientists and managers familiar with the international neutron communities and landscape, need to be conducted annually. Their annual reports to the NCNR director and to the cognizant NIST Director would be beneficial. Such annual reviews are especially needed at this time in view of the major strategic issues facing the NCNR in the execution of its strategic objectives:
External reviews conducted less frequently than annually are not able to provide sufficiently current or detailed evaluations of the NCNR nor to track its technical and operational issues.
RECOMMENDATION: The NCNR should establish external reviews that assess its technical and operational issues on an annual basis.
The NCNR plays a critical role in both fundamental and applied industrial research within the United States but does not currently have representation on the NIST VCAT.
RECOMMENDATION: The NCNR leadership should work with NIST leadership to address the absence of VCAT representation in neutron applications.
The panel was not provided with a document that clearly articulates the NCNR’s vision, mission, and strategic plan complete with contingencies.
RECOMMENDATION: The NCNR should prepare a guiding document on vision, mission, and strategic plans and update it regularly.
The United States significantly lags behind the European Union in neutron-scattering facilities, and it is in jeopardy of becoming internationally noncompetitive. The NCNR represents a large fraction of the neutron scattering capability within the United States, and it remains a world-class facility, even though its funding has been stagnant in recent years. Continuation of current funding trends inevitably leads to a trajectory of decline.
RECOMMENDATION: NCNR leadership should work with NIST leadership to ensure the support of the NCNR at a level of resourcing that will enable it to develop and support world-class neutron scattering instrumentation.
nSoft is an industrial consortium, unique among neutron scattering user facilities, designed specifically to engage industry in neutron scattering. It embodies an innovative strategy for getting U.S. industries involved in neutron science by making it easy for industrial users to realize benefits that neutron scattering can provide to their research programs. What is missing today is a means to assess the impact of nSoft. Metrics need to be established to assess its effectiveness.
The nSoft consortium is developing a more facile engagement with industry.
RECOMMENDATION: The NCNR should establish quality and success metrics for nSoft.
RECOMMENDATION: The NCNR should develop an additional umbrella organization for hard matter and industrial interactions.
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