Nation's first all-digital nuclear reactor dedicated at Purdue

All US reactors worked using analog technology before the digital conversion.

Purdue University Reactor Number One was converted to digital technology.
Purdue University/Vincent Walker

Purdue University will support public and private research partnerships at the nation's first digitally operated nuclear reactor, the school said in a Tuesday press release. Scientists and engineers will look to answer the question of how reliable and resilient an all-digital nuclear reactor, named Purdue University Reactor Number One (PUR-1), can be.  

"As the United States and the world continue to implement digital technology, that introduces both strengths and vulnerabilities that need to be explored and understood because our economy relies on the resiliency of these systems," Clive Townsend, supervisor for the reactor, said in a statement.

Before PUR-1 was converted to digital technology, all US reactors worked using analog technology like vacuum tubes and hand-soldered wires, Townsend said in the release. Purdue's facility will be the US' first cyber-nuclear testbed for researchers and corporate partners. It's licensed by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which ensures safe use of radioactive materials. 

PUR-1 researchers have partnered with a nuclear measurement and detection company called Mirion Technologies to test how its detectors and reactor behave in different environments. 

"We're seeing renewed interest by members of the public and future students, as well as collaborations in private and public sectors, to use this small reactor for a variety of purposes, including detector characterization and new outreach capabilities across both the US and the world," Townsend said. "It's really breathed new life, as well as new research capabilities."

The digital conversion of PUR-1 started in 2016. It was dedicated at a ribbon-cutting and summit that began Tuesday.