Reed Research Reactor

A look inside a real, operational nuclear reactor inside Portland city limits!

Kristi Does PDX is going nuclear today!  With a visit to a nuclear reactor right here in Portland, at Reed College.    Did you know there they have an operational nuclear reactor on campus?  Well they do, it’s called the Reed Research Reactor… and I got the chance to look right into it’s belly.  

So there’s this thing called the Nuclear Regulatory Commission…. and it is kind of strict.  Go figure. And one of their rules is no photos of the facility, except of the actual reactor tank.  So this is the last photo before we went inside.

Reed reactor facility door

What I wasn’t able to photograph was the equipment surrounding the tank, the control booth or the classroom where student conduct nuclear experiments.  There were sooo many awesome photo ops, but you’ll just have to get in there to see it yourself.  I do not want to get into the science and mechanics of the reactor.  They told us a lot about all of it, but I am sure I’ll get it wrong.  I am no good at physics.  That was the closest I’ve ever come to failing a class.  But here are some cool things to know about the reactor: 

Reed reactor lights on

  • This is a fission reactor that has been in service since 1968.
  • It is operated by undergraduate students at Reed, which sounds a little scary at first but they go through a YEAR long training program and take big certification test with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
  • This reactor does not  have enough power in it to even boil water, so there is no need to worry about any disasters.  
  • The fuel used by this (and any nuclear facility in the country) is owned by the Department of Energy, Reed College is just “borrowing” it. 
  • The NRC does not like digital equipment so most of the instruments are analog and even the logs are done by hand.

While on the tour we got to see them bring the reactor up to full power.  That’s the blue glow at the bottom of the 25 foot tank.  They also did a SCRAM drill, which is just a power cut off, that drops the rods back down ending any reactions.  The whole thing was really cool and informative lead by student tour guides. 

Reed reactor blue glow

They do tours like this on occasion but not all the time.  I happened to see a posting on the Atlas Obscura website.  Do you read that site?  If you don’t, you should.  It is full of weird and unusual sights all around the world.  On May 30th, they held a world-wide “Obscura Day”, which is why Reed had tours open to the public.  Anyway, of you ever have the opportunity to visit, I highly recommend it.  They host lots of school tours so if you are a teacher, reach out!  It would be an awesome field trip.  


Inside Portland's Nuclear Reactor


7 Comments on Reed Research Reactor

  1. Woah – This WOULD make an awesome field trip!!! I had no idea there were tours like this…

  2. This is awesome. I never knew about this. My husband would LOVE to visit this. Thanks for the suggestion!

  3. Woah! This reminds me of some kind of Charlize Theron late-90s movie!

  4. Oo, definitely bookmarking the Obsura sight for later. I had no idea about Portland having a nuclear reactor – now I know there is still a chance to perhaps get super powers.

  5. WHAT!!!! this is awesome. Such a neat experience. I had no idea this existed!

  6. Interesting! When I was growing up, my father worked at Trojan Nuclear Power Plant in Rainer, Oregon when it was in operation. It’s been closed quite a while now though. I remember some amazing photos he took of inside the cooling tower and reactor plant. He’d sometimes have to wear a thick heat-resistant suit for protection. It looked like space gear. 🙂

  7. A nuclear reactor manned by Reed undergraduates. My brain is having difficulties processing this. I know some former Reed students. *nervous look*

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