OPAL - Open Pool Australian Lightweight reactor

Today I had the opportunity to see and photograph ANSTO's Open Pool Australian Lightweight (OPAL), state-of-the-art 20 Megawatt reactor. It was an amazing experience, looking into OPAL. It's so crystal clear you don't initially see the water. It's only the light surface movement caused by rotating fans, 13 metres below at the bottom that makes you aware of it. It's the clarity and the color generated within the pool that make it so striking as well as the knowledge that at it's core is a nuclear reactor.

Looking into Opal from the moving gantry above the pool - tap for large view.

On assignment to shoot still and 360˚ panoramic photography for my client Heather Catchpole from RefractiveMedia. I had to be very careful not to have any loose equipment, lens caps or anything that could fall into the pool. I hear it's a very, very expensive operation to remove a foreign object.

So cloaked in a lab coat, booties and rubber gloves and under the watchful eyes of the operators in the control booth I hauled my gear onto a metal gantry that moves over the top of the pool and set up the shoot.

Security is a given and I couldn't shoot a full 360˚ as there are security features that cannot be photographed. So I secured all my equipment and shot down and over the open pool.

Arranging to get access to the reactor room, let alone carrying a load of photographic equipment isn't easy so it was important to get the right shots. Back home the first thing I did was test a basic set of images for the 360˚ panorama and I was very, very happy to see that they would stitch perfectly and that the images were sharp and clear. 

A big thanks to the staff from ANSTO who were very patient and very helpful. 

Close up of the bottom of the pool 13 metres down - tap for large view.

Opened in 2007, OPAL is one of a small number of reactors with the capacity for the commercial production of radioisotopes. This capacity, combined with the open pool design, the use of LEU fuel and the wide range of applications, places OPAL among the best research reactors in the world.

The fuel assemblies (core) are cooled by demineralised light water (ordinary water) and are surrounded by a zirconium alloy 'reflector' vessel that contains heavy water. The reflector vessel is positioned at the bottom of a 13-metre-deep pool of light water. The open pool design makes it easy to see and manipulate items inside the reactor pool. The depth of the water ensures effective radiation shielding of staff working above the pool. The heavy water maintains the nuclear reaction in the core by 'reflecting' neutrons back towards the core - For more info visit the ANSTO web site

Tony Redhead

93 Maud Street, Unley, SA, 5061, Australia