Argonne National Laboratory

Benoit Dionne

By Imelda FrancisFebruary 25, 2014

Benoit Dionne is a nuclear engineer in Argonne’s Nuclear Engineering division.

What role do you play at Argonne?

As a nuclear engineer at Argonne, I have worked for more than six years providing technical support to research reactor engineers who perform the feasibility studies and safety analyses required to obtain the approval for converting highly enriched uranium (HEU) fueled reactors to  low enriched uranium (LEU) fueled reactors. Conversion of the reactors to LEU fuel implements the national policy to reduce the threat of nuclear terrorism by preventing access to high risk nuclear material.

Designing an LEU fuel alternative for a given research reactor is a group effort that involves multiple collaborators from different institutions. As the European Conversion Project Manager at Argonne, I interact with engineers in France, Belgium and Italy on a regular basis. In addition to my project management role, I also share my technical expertise in the fields of reactor physics, thermal-hydraulics and reactor transients with these international partners in order to perform the analyses necessary to demonstrate the performance and safety of the new fuel.

Beginning in the fall of 2013, my role at Argonne also expanded to include line management.

How does your work support the lab’s larger mission?

By applying my technical expertise and leveraging other engineering resources at Argonne towards conversion of  research reactors, my work contributes to the overall laboratory mission of providing world-class scientific and engineering solutions in the fields of energy and national security.

The use of HEU fuel (weapons grade material) in civilian applications—such as nuclear research reactors—poses a threat to national and international security and it has been a long-standing policy of the U.S. government to minimize the use of HEU fuel. Currently, the government’s HEU minimization effort is spearheaded by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) through the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI). Argonne has been providing expertise and leadership to support the GTRI mission, and its predecessor, the Reduced Enrichment for Research and Test Reactors program, since 1978.

Another way Argonne helps support the HEU minimization goal is to provide simulation tools to facilities and countries that may not have such capabilities. So in addition to my other roles, I oversee and participate in the maintenance and improvement of computer codes used to perform the various design and safety analyses.

What attracted you to work at Argonne?

In the course of getting my PhD in Nuclear Science and Engineering at the University of Florida (UF) in Gainesville, I worked on the conversion of the UF's research reactor with many Argonne engineers. One of the individuals on the project was a section manager in the Nuclear Engineering division at Argonne, and he offered me a position at the conclusion of the project. The rest is history.

What are the things you like most about your work? 

In addition to the sense that the work I do has significant value beyond my personal ambitions, I enjoy working on international projects that involve engineers from multiple institutions. The technical challenges associated with converting operational research reactors and the variety of the analyses required is also appealing to me.

What sorts of positive mentoring experiences, formal or informal, have you had at Argonne?

For me, mentorship at the laboratory has come in the form of an open-door policy by the more experienced engineers. In addition to their willingness to have technical discussions—and sometime debates—about the latest problem, I’ve always appreciated the fact that they took the time to school me in areas where my personal background was not as strong.

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