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Ever wanted a LEGO nuclear reactor? Here’s your chance.

photo of lego inl

If it gets enough votes, the Idaho National Laboratory’s Experimental Breeder Reactor could be immortalized in LEGO bricks. Photo courtesy of INL.

An Idaho-designed LEGO set could be coming to stores around the world — and it has a science theme designed to inspire kids to learn more about STEM fields.

Catherine Riddle, a research scientist in aqueous separations and radiochemistry at Idaho National Laboratory (INL), in Idaho Falls, has developed “Atomic Town Power,” and if the set receives enough votes, it will be considered as an Official Limited Edition LEGO set for sale, she said.

photo of catherine riddle

Catherine Riddle. Photo by Pete Grady.

“With all our history here in Idaho, I thought it would be great to use the Experimental Breeder Reactor No.1 (EBR-1) as the focal point of my LEGO design, which is why this power plant is nuclear-powered,” Riddle said.

The design — based on the EBR-I experiment that produced electricity using nuclear power for the first time in 1951 — uses a LEGO reactor to simulate the lighting and heating of a mini-figure town with nuclear energy, according to a statement from INL. The roughly 6,000-piece kit includes four working light bulbs reminiscent of those found on the mezzanine of EBR-I.

“Inside the power plant, we find an experimental breeder reactor at the heart of the building along with multiple support areas including a hot cell that can be rotated to the inside of the reactor, a cooling canal for fuel removal, electrical generator, chemistry laboratory, overhead crane to open the reactor lid, reactor control room and reception area,” according to the description of the set. “The reactor lid can be opened using the overhead crane to reveal the core design and fuel rods.”

On the second floor mezzanine level are two steam vessels and a generator producing electricity to light the bulbs, as scientists and engineers take data, the description continued. The generator mezzanine level lifts off to reveal the power plant’s reception area and the reactor control operations room.

When the lid is closed, the reactor lights up using a light brick, and the acronym EBR-1 shines through on both sides of the reactor into the power plant. In addition, each of the EBR-1 LED light bulbs light up to indicate the flow of electricity to Atomic Town.

On the main floor is a chemistry laboratory, including instruments and sample containers, where tests are performed to keep the reactor in good health and producing power for the residence of Atomic Town, the description continued.

“To the back wall of the reactor room are steps that lead to the control and reception area, as well as a radiation safety control area and the safety control rod axe man (SCRAM) with his trusty axe in case of emergency,” the description continued. “The hot cell, on the right side of the reactor, has cell manipulator handles that rotate and a turntable that can bring samples from the reactor into the hot cell.  The reactor cooling canal area is a lovely sea of Cerenkov-blue water, and fuel rods from the core can be laid in it to cool down.”

Lest one is concerned about a meltdown in the living room, the set doesn’t actually use or produce nuclear energy, Riddle admitted. It is intended to be a teaching tool for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) as well as a conversation starter on nuclear energy as a clean energy solution, she said.

The set includes 13 LEGO figurines: chemists, engineers, physicists, control room operators, technicians, a fire fighter, SCRAM and receptionist. Two of the scientists are explicitly female, and Riddle admitted she modeled them on herself.

“I had to do it,” she said, adding that she had to create the hair herself to mimic her signature bangs and ponytail.

The set needs to reach 10,000 votes by May 2020 to be considered. The INL is also helping promote the set to employees, universities and other national labs, Riddle said.

About Sharon Fisher