Research reactors in the world

Research reactors have contributed substantially to the development of nuclear science and technology for the last half-century.

But today we are at the point where most of the discoveries achievable with existing research reactors have already been made. New innovations and discoveries need newer tools and more powerful research facilities based on high flux reactors with well-equipped laboratories for post-irradiation experiments and extended research options.

But the world reactor fleet is inevitably aging. There are less than 250 operating research reactors in the world. The vast majority of them are operated for about 50 years, approaching their decommissioning within the next couple of decades.

As the nuclear research reactors are coming to extinct, fast neutron reactors are especially endangered: now, only the Russian BOR-60 (60MW), which is similar in parameters to the young Chinese CEFR, and the Indian FBTR (40MW) are operated.

For today, only two reactors under construction (JHR and MBIR) have relatively high neutron flux (also for the neutrons of the fast spectrum).

Although the commercial fast reactors (BNs) may be used for a range of research, they are not suitable for a large-scale research program. The same is true for the thermal reactors

Thermal research reactors may be an alternative to some extent but this option also has serious limitations.

So without new high flux research reactors providing the fast neutron spectrum within a couple of decades nuclear science and material testing may face a shortage of tools.

Characteristics of current research reactor projects

MBIR is a unique multi-purpose research facility

MBIR is a research facility with a multipurpose fast neutron reactor and metal coolant (sodium). The facility will be equipped with a wide range of experimental devices providing for a variety of research options.

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  • Electric power 50 МВт, Thermal power 150 МВт
  • Fuel vibro-MOX
  • The ability to modify and optimize the experimental equipment
  • Energy release in fuel assembly – 500 Wt/cm, maximum shell temperature – 700 С
  • Channel width – 6.92 cm, core height – 55 cm.
  • Design life is 50 year, power start-up is planned for 2024
  • Technological solutions are referent to the Fast Reactor BOR-60

To perform research in the MBIR reactor, the following experimental volumes are provided, which are placed in the reactor vessel:

  • Loops for simulating the operational conditions in the reactor core cores for various coolants;
  • Independent loops for various coolants;
  • Specialized fuel assemblies for testing different absorbing and structural materials;
  • Ordinary fuel elements to produce target isotopes;
  • Isolated loop to sustain the required thermodynamic parameters in the coolant by natural and forced circulation, organized within the channel.

The purpose of the MBIR construction is the creation of a high-flux fast neutron research reactor with unique consumer properties for the following tasks: carrying out reactor and post-reactor studies, generating electricity and heat, developing new technologies for the production of radioisotopes and modified materials.

MBIR project roadmap and layoutMBIR project roadmap and layout

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International Research Center

Rosatom calls for international research partnership on the basis of the new reactor MBIR. The fundamental argument behind the idea – redundancy of the potential for a sole user even so advanced in the new technologies development as Russia alongside the capital intensity and high operating costs ruling out under the underutilization as an excusable option.

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A comprehensive high flux research facility can’t be implemented small scale or on a modular basis so high cost is an inevitable factor. Which bring us to the idea promoted by IAEA for quite some time of regional “centers of excellence” where a single reactor can service a number of countries.

A research reactor may be constructed to meet the requirements of a single Member State, or to serve as a regional or international center of excellence; helping to meet the needs of both the initiating Member State and its neighbors or collaborators. Developing the case for a regional facility is more difficult and complex, but is potentially highly beneficial, providing higher utilization, additional human and financial resources.

The ultimate advantage of the consortium management vs the sole construction and use of a research reactor is the cost reduction, as the user may buy the flux share it actually requires for the research and has a possibility to dispose of it temporarily when it is not needed while preserving its user’s rights. Or increase the share if and when necessary.

The structural framework is two-component: a reactor complex owned by the Russian Federation and technically managed by the authorized Russian organization SSC RIAR, and a creative research component transferred to a separate structure by the International Center for Research on a long-term agreement.

RIAR will be bearing direct responsibility for liabilities, operation, and maintenance as well as the program technical execution. And will provide extra laboratory services on site.

IRC MBIR consortium will manage the budgeting process including consortium share (administrative costs of the consortium management) and the budget for irradiation service which will define the pricing model for the irradiation contracts. Early bird participation will provide privileged access to the reactor services and preferential pricing vs contractual users coming at a later stage.

The business scheme is a sequential stepwise combination of neutron flux sales and a reverse payment chain.

The participants of the IRC can be either individual structures, buying resources for their own programs or join the consortium, providing indirect participation to members of such a consortium.

Share in IRC MBIR will certify a pro rata share of the reactor neutron flux committed to the participant.

The ultimate perspective goal of the flux sharing concept is to set up a system where the title for the flux share can become a marketable product applicable not only within IRC MBIR community but also outside as a cross-reactor trade.

In the dream-scheme, the flux share is “transferable” and may be used not only for the shareholder’s own research but also

  • sub-leased (without change of the membership) to other members or third parties at a “market” price
  • merged with other members for joint research or assigned in exchange for the research results
  • o swapped in time – which may be of interest for members with small shares.