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Performance criterion 4 – Strategic management of landmark and national infrastructure

Strategic management of landmark and national infrastructure - To serve users, enable world-class research and create economic impact and benefit.




OPAL days at power

287 days

298 days

Australian Synchrotron % of availability

95 per cent

84 per cent*

Neutron beam instruments % of availability

85 per cent

82 per cent*

Accelerators % of availability

65 per cent

56 per cent*

* In 2019-2020 the percentage availability was less than planned due to the impact of COVID-19 that restricted user travel to ANSTO campuses and resulted in the shutdown of our research infrastructure platforms, except to enable COVID-19 related research for approximately three months.


At the heart of ANSTO’s research capabilities is the state-of-the-art OPAL reactor which commenced operation in 2007 and is one of the world’s most effective multi-purpose reactors.

OPAL is used for scientific research, the production of medical radioisotopes, and the irradiation of silicon for use in microelectronics and other specialised irradiations for research and industry.

OPAL continued to consolidate its reputation as one of the world’s most reliable and available multi-purpose reactors. In the 2019-2020 financial year, the OPAL reactor operated for 298 days with a reliability of 99 per cent. Reliability is measured by how well the OPAL reactor performed against the planned operating and shut down schedule. This schedule is published on ANSTO’s website at the beginning of each financial year. See the current schedule: https://www.ansto.gov.au/research/facilities/opal-multi-purpose-reactor/opal-operating-cycles

Sustained safe operations have been achieved through the expertise of OPAL staff and robust asset management. ANSTO’s capital investment in OPAL has enhanced safety and reliability, with optimised realisation of asset value through the renewal key infrastructure. OPAL upgrades have enabled the remote condition monitoring of critical plant, minimising radiation exposure for staff and supporting the continuity of supply of medical radioisotopes. A focus on increasing the capacity and capability of the reactor has resulted in a greater level of irradiated products and services being provided to our stakeholders and users. This has enabled ANSTO to supply more than half of the world demand for Neutron Transmutation Doping (NTD) irradiated silicon, which is used to power high-end, renewable technology such as high-speed trains, wind turbine systems and electric and hybrid vehicles.

High reliability OPAL operations have supported strong levels of utilisation. OPAL has continued to be used for the irradiation of new radioisotope products including novel theranostic products that combine diagnosis and treatment. The OPAL utilisation team is increasing the capacity for irradiation of these products through optimised target configuration within existing facilities. ANSTO’s collaboration with researchers to produce the irradiated products supports the global development of targeted treatments that minimise damage to healthy tissue and are better tolerated by patients.

ANSTO has set a target of 285 days of safe operation in 2020-2021, which incorporates a planned extended maintenance shutdown period to ensure the ongoing safety, high efficiency and reliability of the reactor into the future.

Looking into the OPAL multi-purpose reactor pool showing the distinctive Chernkov blue glow present in the water
OPAL multi-purpose reactor pool

Australian Synchrotron

ANSTO’s Australian Synchrotron is Australia’s largest particle accelerator facility that produces powerful beams of light that are used by 10 different beamlines to examine the molecular and atomic details of a wide range of materials. The advanced techniques are applied to research in many important areas including health and medical, food, environment, biotechnology, nanotechnology, energy, mining, agriculture, advanced materials and cultural heritage.

With the $95 million BRIGHT funding already secured with the support of 30 funding partners, ANSTO is constructing an additional eight beamlines at the facility, nearly doubling its research capacity. The new beamlines will be progressively opened to the research community over the next few years and will provide opportunities for researchers to access unique and highly specialised capabilities and techniques. This will open up exciting new facilities for use in diverse areas such as the development of high-grade medical implants and investigating the impacts of food preservatives, to minerals processing and protein analysis for drug design and validation.

During this period, the Australian Synchrotron hosted in excess of 1300 merit access users, supporting in excess of 750 user projects with almost every research intensive university and government institution based in Australia and New Zealand accessing the Synchrotron to conduct research. For example, the Grain Research Development Corporation and university partners began research with ANSTO relating to soil science, plant physiology and growth, as well as the distribution, availability and enhancement of micro-nutritional content in plants and grains. This work will improve the quality and accessibility of our nation’s food supply.

The high calibre of collaborations over this period has generated approximately 590 peer-reviewed scientific journal articles, with over 30 per cent appearing in the world’s top scientific journals, including Nature and Science. Research to understand the molecular basis and treatment of malaria and technology that may soon help paralysed patients walk again were both acknowledged by the Australian Museum's annual science awards the Eureka Prizes, while the Australia Synchrotron’s involvement in research related to COVID-19 contributed to a better understanding of the nature of the virus and receiving extensive media coverage.

Neutron beam instruments

ACNS is home to 15 neutron-beam instruments, where scientists apply neutron scattering techniques to solve complex research and industrial problems such as the development of renewable, clean energy technologies or new battery materials. Studying is also conducted on the structural integrity of materials such as airplane turbines and vehicle engine blocks that will be used in vehicles in the near future which is partially funded through the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS).

During the period, ACNS hosted in excess of 430 users, supporting in excess of 335 user projects. The ACNS’s technical and scientific research support staff play an important role in the training and development of postgraduate students, post-doctoral fellows and early career researchers. In 2019-2020 over 150 postgraduate students participated in experiments at the ACNS as part of their studies.

The ACNS has a demonstrated track record of engagement with the research community, which has been integral to the development of the science case for each of the neutron beam instruments and as users of the infrastructure. The ACNS and its staff have been partners of choice for a number of successful Australian Research Council Project grants including new ACNS capabilities that will be secured via two Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities.

The ACNS neutron guide hall from an elevated high showing the various instruments.
The ACNS neutron guide hall


CAS, which is partially funded through NCRIS, provides users with access to a suite of tools in one location that can be used for isotopic dating, air pollution studies, climate science, the modification and characterisation of materials, radiation damage studies, forensic science, nuclear detector characterisation and microbiological and life sciences studies.

CAS consists of four megavolt-range accelerators- the 2MV Small Tandem for Applied Research (Star), the 10MV Australian National Tandem Research Accelerator (Antares), a 1MV low energy multi-isotope accelerator (Vega) and a 6MV tandem accelerator (Sirius) - with a suite of sample processing laboratories.

During 2019-2020, CAS supported over 200 users in over 100 user projects from Australian and international universities, government agencies and industry, including leading national and international institutions such as The Imperial College (London), The University of Rochester (New York), Cambridge University, British Geological Survey, CSIRO, the Australian National University (ANU) and the University of Melbourne.

Over many years, CAS staff have developed specialist expertise in radiocarbon dating of micro-samples, that is, samples where only a few micrograms of carbon are available. This expertise has proven vital to two collaborations which have published important findings this year.

When bushfires struck NSW with unprecedented ferocity in the 2019-2020 bushfire season, sampling sites operated by CAS gave insights into air quality around the Sydney basin and Hunter Valley. Analysis showed that not only was the amount of bushfire smoke exceeding safe limits on many occasions, but also that significant amounts of soil were being transported by winds from the fire zones into regions well beyond those fire zones. See more on ANSTO work on Case study 1 - Understanding the 2019-2020 bushfires.