OPAL (Open Pool Australian Lightwater reactor) is a 20 megawatt (MW) pool-type nuclear research reactor that was officially opened in April 2007 at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) Research Establishment at Lucas Heights, located in South Sydney, Australia.
The main reactor uses are:
The reactor runs on an operation cycle of 28 days nonstop at fullpower, followed by a stop of 2 days to reshuffle the fuel.
The Argentine company INVAP was fully responsible through a turn key contract for the delivery of the reactor, performing the design, construction and commissioning. The facility is currently in operation.
OPAL was opened on 20 April 2007 by Australian Prime Minister John Howard and is the replacement for the HIFAR reactor. ANSTO received an operating license from the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) in July 2006, allowing commencement of hot commissioning, where fuel is first loaded into the reactor core. OPAL went critical for the first time on 13 August 2006 and reached full power on November 3, 2006. 
The reactor core consists of 16 low-enriched plate-type fuel assemblies and is located under 10 metres of water in an open pool. Light water (normal H2O) is used as the coolant and moderator while heavy water (D2O) is used as the neutron reflector.
OPAL is the centrepiece of the facilities at ANSTO, providing efficient and rapid radiopharmaceutical and radioisotope production, irradiation services (including neutron transmutation doping of silicon), neutron activation analysis and neutron beam research. OPAL is able to produce four times as many radioisotopes for nuclear medicine treatments, and a wider array of radioisotopes for the treatment of disease than the old HIFAR reactor. The modern design includes a cold neutron source (CNS).
The OPAL reactor already has received seven awards in Australia.
The Bragg Institute at ANSTO hosts OPAL's neutron scattering facility. It is now running as a user facility serving the scientific community in Australia and around the world. New fundings have been received in 2009 in order to install further competitive instruments and beamlines. The actual facility comprises the following instruments:
ECHIDNA is the name of the high-resolution neutron powder diffractometer. The instrument serves to determine the crystalline structures of materials using neutron radiation analogical to X-ray techniques. It is named after the Australian monotreme echidna, as the spiny peaks of the instrument looks like an echidna.
It operates with thermal neutrons. One of the main features is the array of 128 collimators and position sensitive detectors for rapid data acquisition. ECHIDNA allows for structure determinations, texture measurements and reciprocal space mapping of single crystals in most different sample environments serving the physics, chemistry, materials, minerals and earth-science communities. ECHIDNA is part of the Bragg Institute's park of neutron scattering instruments.
A set of 128 detectors each equipped which a 5' collimator in front are arranged in a 160° sector focusing to the sample. The collimators select the scattered radiation into the well defined ranges of 128 angular positions. All the collimator and detector setup is mounted on a common table which is scanned in finer steps around the sample, to be combinded further to a continuous diffraction pattern.
PLATYPUS is a time-of-flight reflectometer built on the cold neutron. The instrument serves to determine the structure of interfaces using highly collimated neutron beams. These beams are shone on to the surface at low angles (typically less than 2 degrees) and the intensity of the reflected radiation is measured as a function of angle of incidence.
It operates using cold neutrons, with a wavelength band of 0.2–2.0 nm. Although up to three different angles of incidence are required for each reflectivity curve, the time-of-flight nature means that timescales of kinetic processes are accessible. By analysing the reflected signal one builds a picture of the chemical structure of the interface. This instrument can be used for examining biomembranes, lipid bilayers, magnetism, adsorbed surfactant layers, etc.
WOMBAT is a high-intensity neutron powder diffractometer. The instrument serves to determine the crystalline structures of materials using neutron radiation analogical to X-ray techniques. It is named after the wombat, a marsupial indigenous to Australia.
It will operate with thermal neutrons. It has been designed for highest flux and data acquisition speed in order to deliver time resolved diffraction patterns in a fraction of a second. WOMBAT will concentrate on in-situ studies and time critical investigations, such as structure determinations, texture measurements and reciprocal space mapping of single crystals in most different sample environments serving the physics, chemistry, materials, minerals and earth-science communities.
KOWARI is a neutron residual stress diffractometer. Strain scanning using thermal neutrons is a powder diffraction technique in a polycrystalline block of material probing the change of atomic spacing due to internal or external stress. It is named after the kowari, an Australian marsupial.
It provides a diagnostic non-destructive tool to optimize e.g. post-weld heat treatment (PWHT, similar to tempering) of welded structures. Tensile stresses for example drive crack growth in engineering components and compressive stresses inhibit crack growth (for example cold-expanded holes subject to fatigue cycling). Life extension strategies have high economic impact and strain scanning provides the stresses needed to calculate remaining life as well as the means to monitor the condition of components since it is non-destructive. One of the main features is the sample table that will allow to examine large engineering components while orienting and positioning them very accurately.
Following the discovery of loose fuel plates during a routine inspection, the ANSTO announced on July 27, 2007 that the reactor would be shut down for 8 weeks to fix the fuel plates and a minor fault causing light water to seep into the reactor's heavy water.
According to reports, during the examinations no radiation leakages were detected, although it took much longer than 8 weeks to obtain the necessary clearances to complete repairs and readjustments. ANSTO announced on 25 October 2007 that the reactor would remain shut down until early 2008 while it sought approval from ARPANSA to restart the reactor.
As of March 2008, the reactor remained shut down. According to an ANSTO news release on 22 February 2008, "Late last week, ARPANSA submitted a series of questions on the application, which ANSTO will respond to as quickly as possible. This is expected to take some weeks."
OPAL returned to full operational power on 23 May 2008, after a 10-month shutdown, following approval by the nuclear regulator, ARPANSA to use a modified fuel design.
|Chemical formula||Hydrated silica. SiO2·nH2O|
|Color||White, black, red, orange, most of the full spectrum, colorless, iridescent|
|Crystal habit||Irregular veins, in masses, in nodules|
|Fracture||Conchoidal to uneven|
|Mohs Scale hardness||5.5–6.5|
|Luster||Subvitreous to waxy|
|Diaphaneity||opaque, translucent, transparent|
|Specific gravity||2.15 (+.08, -.90)|
|Polish luster||Vitreous to resinous|
|Optical properties||Single refractive, often anomalous double refractive due to strain|
|Refractive index||1.450 (+.020, -.080) Mexican opal may read as low as 1.37, but typically reads 1.42–1.43|
|Ultraviolet fluorescence||black or white body color: inert to white to moderate light blue, green, or yellow in long and short wave. May also phosphoresce; common opal: inert to strong green or yellowish green in long and short wave, may phosphoresce; fire opal: inert to moderate greenish brown in long and short wave, may phosphoresce.|
|Absorption spectra||green stones: 660nm, 470nm cutoff|
|Diagnostic features||darkening upon heating|
|Solubility||hot saltwater, bases, methanol, humic acid, hydrofluoric acid|
Opal is a mineraloid gel which is deposited at a relatively low temperature and may occur in the fissures of almost any kind of rock, being most commonly found with limonite, sandstone, rhyolite, marl and basalt. The word opal comes from the Latin opalus, by Greek opallios, and is from the same root as Sanskrit upálá[s] for "stone", originally a millstone with upárá[s] for slab.
The water content is usually between three and ten percent, but can be as high as twenty percent. Opal ranges from clear through white, gray, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, magenta, rose, pink, slate, olive, brown, and black. Of these hues, the reds against black are the most rare, whereas white and greens are the most common. These color variations are a function of growth size into the red and infrared wavelengths. Opal is Australia's national gemstone.
Precious opal shows a variable interplay of internal colors and even though it is a mineraloid, it does have an internal structure. At micro scales precious opal is composed of silica spheres some 150 to 300 nm in diameter in a hexagonal or cubic close-packed lattice. These ordered silica spheres produce the internal colors by causing the interference and diffraction of light passing through the microstructure of the opal. It is the regularity of the sizes and the packing of these spheres that determines the quality of precious opal. Where the distance between the regularly packed planes of spheres is approximately half the wavelength of a component of visible light, the light of that wavelength may be subject to diffraction from the grating created by the stacked planes. The spacing between the planes and the orientation of planes with respect to the incident light determines the colors observed. The process can be described by Bragg's Law of diffraction.
Visible light of diffracted wavelengths cannot pass through large thicknesses of the opal. This is the basis of the optical band gap in a photonic crystal, of which opal is the best known natural example. In addition, microfractures may be filled with secondary silica and form thin lamellae inside the opal during solidification. The term opalescence is commonly and erroneously used to describe this unique and beautiful phenomenon, which is correctly termed play of color. Contrarily, opalescence is correctly applied to the milky, turbid appearance of common or potch opal. Potch does not show a play of color.
The veins of opal displaying the play of color are often quite thin, and this has given rise to unusual methods of preparing the stone as a gem. An opal doublet is a thin layer of opal, backed by a swart mineral such as ironstone, basalt, or obsidian. The darker backing emphasizes the play of color, and results in a more attractive display than a lighter potch.
Combined with modern techniques of polishing, doublet opal produces similar effect of black or boulder opals at a mere fraction of the price. Doublet opal also has the added benefit of having genuine opal as the top visible and touchable layer, unlike triplet opals.
The triplet-cut opal backs the colored material with a dark backing, and then has a domed cap of clear quartz or plastic on top, which takes a high polish and acts as a protective layer for the relatively fragile opal. The top layer also acts as a magnifier, to emphasise the play of color of the opal beneath, which is often of lower quality. Triplet opals therefore have a more artificial appearance, and are not classed as precious opal.
Besides the gemstone varieties that show a play of color, there are other kinds of common opal such as the milk opal, milky bluish to greenish (which can sometimes be of gemstone quality), resin opal which is honey-yellow with a resinous luster, wood opal which is caused by the replacement of the organic material in wood with opal, menilite which is brown or grey, hyalite is a colorless glass-clear opal sometimes called Muller's Glass, geyserite, also called siliceous sinter, deposited around hot springs or geysers and diatomite or diatomaceous earth, the accumulations of diatom shells or tests.
Fire opals are transparent to translucent opals with warm body colors yellow, orange, orange-yellow or red and they do not show any play-of-color. The most famous source of fire opals is the state of Queretaro in Mexico and these opals are commonly called Mexican fire opals.
Peruvian opal (also called blue opal) is a semi-opaque to opaque blue-green stone found in Peru which is often cut to include the matrix in the more opaque stones. It does not display pleochroism.
Australia produces around 97% of the world’s opal. 90% is called ‘light opal’ or white and crystal opal. White makes up 60% of the opal productions but cannot be found in all of the opal fields. Crystal opal or pure hydrated silica makes up 30% of the opal produced, 8% is black and only 2% is boulder opal.
The town of Coober Pedy in South Australia is a major source of opal. Andamooka in South Australia is also a major producer of matrix opal, crystal opal, and black opal. Another Australian town, Lightning Ridge in New South Wales, is the main source of black opal, opal containing a predominantly dark background (dark-gray to blue-black displaying the play of color). Boulder opal consists of concretions and fracture fillings in a dark siliceous ironstone matrix. It is found sporadically in western Queensland, from Kynuna in the north, to Yowah and Koroit in the south.
The Virgin Valley opal fields of Humboldt County in northern Nevada produce a wide variety of precious black, crystal, white, fire, and lemon opal. The black fire opal is the official gemstone of Nevada. Most of the precious opal is partial wood replacement. Miocene age opalised teeth, bones, fish, and a snake head have been found. Some of the opal has high water content and may desiccate and crack when dried. The largest black opal in the Smithsonian Museum comes from the Royal Peacock opal mine in the Virgin Valley.
Another source of white base opal in the United States is Spencer, Idaho. A high percentage of the opal found there occurs in thin layers. As a result, most of the production goes into the making of doublets and triplets.
Other significant deposits of precious opal around the world can be found in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Turkey, Indonesia, Brazil, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Ethiopia.
As well as occurring naturally, opals of all varieties have been synthesized experimentally and commercially. The discovery of the ordered sphere structure of precious opal led to its synthesis by Pierre Gilson in 1974. The resulting material is distinguishable from natural opal by its regularity; under magnification, the patches of color are seen to be arranged in a "lizard skin" or "chicken wire" pattern. Synthetics are further distinguished from naturals by the former's lack of fluorescence under UV light. Synthetics are also generally lower in density and are often highly porous.
Two notable producers of synthetic opal are the companies Kyocera and Inamori of Japan. Most so-called synthetics, however, are more correctly termed "imitation opal", as they contain substances not found in natural opal (e.g., plastic stabilizers). The imitation opals seen in vintage jewelry are often "Slocum Stone" consisting of laminated glass with bits of foil interspersed.
The lattice of spheres of opal that cause the interference with light are several hundred times larger than the fundamental structure of crystalline silica. As a mineraloid, there is no unit cell that describes the structure of opal. Nevertheless, opals can be roughly divided into those that show no signs of crystalline order (amorphous opal) and those that show signs of the beginning of crystalline order, commonly termed cryptocrystalline or microcrystalline opal. Dehydration experiments and infrared spectroscopy have shown that most of the H2O in the formula of SiO2·nH2O of opals is present in the familiar form of clusters of molecular water. Isolated water molecules, and silanols, structures such as Si-O-H, generally form a lesser proportion of the total and can reside near the surface or in defects inside the opal.
The structure of low-pressure polymorphs of anhydrous silica consist of frameworks of fully-corner bonded tetrahedra of SiO4. The higher temperature polymorphs of silica cristobalite and tridymite are frequently the first to crystallize from amorphous anhydrous silica, and the local structures of microcrystalline opals also appear to be closer to that of cristobalite and tridymite than to quartz. The structures of tridymite and cristobalite are closely related and can be described as hexagonal and cubic close-packed layers. It is therefore possible to have intermediate structures in which the layers are not regularly stacked.
Opal-CT has been interpreted as consisting of clusters of stacking of cristobalite and tridymite over very short length scales. The spheres of opal in opal-CT are themselves made up of tiny microcrystalline blades of cristobalite and tridymite. Opal-CT has occasionally been further subdivided in the literature. Water content may be as high as 10 wt%. Lussatite is a synonym. Opal-C, also called Lussatine, is interpreted as consisting of localized order of -cristobalite with a lot of stacking disorder. Typical water content is about 1.5wt%.
Two broad categories of non-crystalline opals, sometimes just referred to as "opal-A", have been proposed. The first of these is opal-AG consisting of aggregated spheres of silica, with water filling the space in between. Precious opal and potch opal are generally varieties of this, the difference being in the regularity of the sizes of the spheres and their packing. The second "opal-A" is opal-AN or water-containing amorphous silica-glass. Hyalite is another name for this.
Non-crystalline silica in siliceous sediments is reported to gradually transform to opal-CT and then opal-C as a result of diagenesis, due to the increasing overburden pressure in sedimentary rocks, as some of the stacking disorder is removed.
In the Middle Ages, opal was considered a stone that could provide great luck because it was believed to possess all the virtues of each gemstone whose color was represented in the color spectrum of the opal. Victorian superstitions were created by the established gem dealers to stop the rush to buy opals. They paid an author to attribute bad luck to the stone, though some believed this is avoided if opal is the owner's birthstone or if the stone was a gift. Even as recently as under the last czar at the beginning of the 20th century, it was believed that when a Russian of any rank saw an opal among other goods offered for sale, he or she should not buy anything more since the opal was believed to embody the evil eye. Opal is considered the birthstone for people born in October.
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