The main learning activities of the trip occurred at the research reactor at the Czech Technical Institute. It was here that we were able to learn the about the physics and theory behind reactors, and also perform our own experiments with the reactor
One of the most memorable experiences occurred on the first day. During my studies of nuclear reactors, I had heard about cherenkov radiation, and had always been fascinated by its blue glow. Its mystique was up there with the aurora borealis. Imagine my excitement when I learned that on the first day we would be able to witness the radiation in the reactor! When it got dark, we all gathered around the reactor pool and peered down the depths of water to the bottoms of the control rods. After several minutes a faint blue glow started to appear. It gradually grew until the bottom of the pool was glowing blue. It was an awesome experience and a great way to start off our trip.
It was an awesome opportunity to be able to watch the reactor being used in person. I learned so many different things about how it operates that I wouldn’t have noticed from readings, such as how the operators write down every rod change in a record book as a backup in case the computer system gets wiped. I also noticed how the hall had white globes placed at several locations, which I later learned was a part of the system that monitors for radiation levels in the reactor room.
Safety was a theme that I continued to see throughout my time in the many research sites we visited in the Czech Republic. At each place we went to, be it the nuclear power reactor or the fusion reactor, steps were always taken to ensure that we and the employees were safe. At the reactors, every time we left we had to pass through a radiation scanner that ensured that we had not picked up any particles that may cause us discomfort down the road.
I really enjoyed the opportunity I had to learn near and interact with the reactor. I loved being able to manipulate the control rods. Reading about how raising the rods will cause a reaction is one thing, but actually watching the levels rise while raising the rods is an opportunity not to be missed.