Australia's first reactor: HIFAR


HIFAR media centre thumbnail Robert Menzies in 1958 in the HIFAR control room Australia's First Reactor known as HIFAR Reactor


HIFAR was one of only 70 reactors worldwide capable of producing much needed medical radioisotopes. ANSTO enjoys a favourable reputation internationally, and HIFAR was at the centre of much of ANSTO's early research work.


Some uses and benefits from HIFAR included:


  1. Production of radioisotopes for medical purposes and for industry
  2. Silicon transmutation doping for the semiconductor industry
  3. Neutron Activation Analysis and Delayed Neutron Analysis for the mining industry and forensic purposes
  4. The production of gamma ray sources for sterilisation purposes, cancer therapy, industry
  5. Neutron diffraction experiments for the study of matter                                      

HIFAR was Australia's national research reactor. It was central to the research that occurred at ANSTO and it operated safely and reliably for almost 50 years.


The purpose of HIFAR was to produce neutrons for the production of nuclear medicine and for scientific use. Neutrons are subatomic particles found in the nucleus of all atoms. HIFAR produced neutrons through the process of fission, the splitting of a large atom uranium, into two smaller ones; and one or more neutrons. Fission occurs when a heavy nucleus absorbs a neutron and splits. Some of the neutrons given off in the process of fission, after slowing down (losing energy), are used to keep the fission chain reaction going.


When operating at rated power, HIFAR produced billions upon billions of neutrons every second. Materials in the reactor absorb most of the neutrons. Outside the nucleus of an atom a neutron cannot exist alone; it is unstable and will decay within minutes. A reactor must continually produce neutrons to serve its purposes.