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Buffalo Materials Research Center

Current Name: Buffalo Materials Research Center
Former Name: Western New York Nuclear Research Center, 1960-1972
Former Name: Nuclear Science and Technology Facility, 1972-1985
Location: South Campus, Lost Buildings

Historical Note:

In November of 1959, construction began on the Western New York Nuclear Research Center after three years of negotiations between the founders of the center, the Regents of the State University of New York, the New York State Legislature, the Atomic Energy Commission, and New York State Governor Harriman over the funding of the center. On May 10, 1960, the State University of New York Regents received an application for incorporation of the Western New York Nuclear Research Center by the men who would become its trustees. The center was established to conduct research on atomic energy, specifically its relation to the health sciences. Among the first eighteen trustees were Dr. Claude Puffer, Vice Chancellor for Business Affairs and Treasurer, Dr. Ralph Lumb, the first Director of the Western New York Nuclear Research Center, Dr. Raymond Ewell, Vice Chancellor for Research, Dr. Milton Albrecht, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Clifford Furnas, Chancellor of the University of Buffalo, Dr. Ernest Witebsky, Dean of the School of Medicine, Frederick Thomas, Acting Dean of the School of Engineering, and Dr. Henry Woodburn, Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

The center was dedicated on April 20, 1961 after the reactor went critical on March 24, 1961. By July 7, 1961, the center was fully operational. The center was used for industrial and state projects, training, and educational research especially in relation to University at Buffalo's graduate program in Nuclear Technology (established in 1958) and nuclear engineering offerings in the School of Engineering. On March 31, 1972, the University withdrew its financial support of the Western New York Research Center, after two years of decreased funding from the State Legislature. The Board of Trustees voted to dissolve the corporation, and its educational functions were transferred to University at Buffalo in October 1972.

When the operations of the center were transferred, the University changed the center's title to the Nuclear Science and Technology Facility. The facility played a role in both the Nuclear Engineering program in the School of Engineering and the school's Special Major program in Radiation Protection. In addition, the students and instructors used the facility to conduct research projects, as did companies like Kodak, Xerox, and Westinghouse.

In 1984, Materials Engineering Associates, Inc. signed a contract with the State University of New York on behalf of Buffalo Materials Research Corporation, a corporation owned by Materials Engineering Associates, to manage the Nuclear Science and Technology Facility's operations, effectively privatizing it. In September of 1985, the Buffalo Materials Research Corporation took control of the Nuclear Science and Technology Facility. The facility's title then became the Buffalo Materials Research Center. The major activities of the center included radiation damage research, radioisotope production, neutron activation analysis and training of university students, personnel and emergency service organizations.

In 1989, inspection of the reactor's water tank revealed a small crack. The reactor was shut down immediately, and the tank was re-lined. The reactor re-opened in 1991. In March of 1994, the contract was discontinued, and the University at Buffalo announced the decommissioning of the reactor two months later citing high operating costs and the advanced age of the reactor.

“All nuclear fuel and loose radioactive waste was removed from the building in 2005. In 2014, the building underwent the final phases of “decommissioning,” which included the safe demolition, removal and transport of contaminated materials from the building and site to appropriate disposal facilities outside of New York State. The site was restored to a greenfield for unrestricted re-use.”*

*From “Former Site of UB’s Buffalo Materials Research Center,” August 14, 2018, UB News Center.