After seven years of planning and design, the University of Michigan Nuclear Engineering Laboratory building reopened Monday afternoon, complete with more space and renovations in its laboratories, offices, conference rooms and collaboration rooms for students.

Previously, the building housed the decommissioned Ford Nuclear Reactor, which shut down in the early 2000s.

Electrical Engineering Prof. David Munson, Jr., a former dean of engineering, said he was involved in the building’s historically relevant renovations.

“It was constructed sometime after World War II and there was a research effort that was launched in the University that was really done as a memorial to the University alums who were killed in World War II,” he said. “The goal of this research was to pioneer peaceful uses of atomic energy.”

Munson said despite the building’s nuclear reactor shutting down more than a decade ago, it took many years for federal regulators to approve new construction and renovation because of the need to clean and ensure the safety of the space. The building is now home to a variety of features and laboratory space aimed at advancing nuclear security, safety, energy and nonproliferation, the prevention of the spread nuclear weaponry.

Sara Pozzi, a nuclear engineering and radiological sciences professor, is one of the researchers using the new facilities to detect and characterize nuclear material in a popular new field in nuclear engineering. Pozzi mentioned one of the cornerstones of the nuclear engineering labs included the linear accelerator, a medical device that came from the Department of Homeland Security.  

“We’ll be able to host a linear accelerator, which is a machine that accelerates electrons,” she said. “It’s a medical machine so it’s actually used for cancer treatment but it’s being donated to us by the Department of Homeland Security, whom we work for.”

Pozzi said the linear accelerator will be especially helpful in detecting nuclear material in containers. She said this is critical in advancing nuclear security.

“In these applications, we are looking for Uranium or Uranium-235 inside hidden containers,” Pozzi said. “So imagine someone were to try to smuggle in some Uranium for a weapon and you want to find it inside a shielded container. To do that you would have to interrogate the container with a beam of particle from a high-energy X-ray that would come from the linear accelerator.”

Other world-class lab equipment has been added to the building, including imaging tools and gamma ray detectors, which Pozzi described as critical to characterizing radiation.

“These can detect not only the presence of gamma rays but also tell you where they’re coming from so they can characterize a whole field of radiation and where it comes from,” she said.

For the students who will be doing research in the nuclear engineering lab, Pozzi said collaboration rooms, generous lab space and advanced lab equipment promise a more intellectual working environment. These facilities, she explained, will positively affect students who are investigating topics in nuclear engineering and writing their theses.

“A lot of students will be affected by this lab,” she said. “Student doing on their thesis work will be able to do some great experiments because of the new space.”

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