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. 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.

Moreover, 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 (60 MW), which is similar to the young Chinese CEFR, and the Indian FBTR (40 MW) are operated.

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-neutron 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 thermal-neutron reactors. Thermal-neutron 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 stagnation period.

Characteristics of current research reactor projects

MBIR is a unique multi-purpose research facility

MBIR is a research facility with a multipurpose sodium-cooled fast-neutron reactor. The facility will be equipped with a wide range of experimental devices providing various research options.

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  • Thermal power 150 MW, Electric power up to 40 MW;
  • The number of cooling circuits: 3;
  • Coolant type in the Circuits I—II—III: Sodium—Sodium—Water/Steam; 
  • The ability to modify and optimize the experimental equipment;
  • Design lifetime: 50 years;
  • Technological solutions are referent to the Fast Reactor BOR-60.

The following experimental volumes are provided, placed in the MBIR 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 to create 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.

International Research CentrE

Rosatom calls for international research partnerships based on the new reactor MBIR. The fundamental argument behind the idea – redundancy of the potential for a sole user even so advanced in the latest 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 on a small scale, or a modular basis, so high cost is an inevitable factor. This brings us to the idea promoted by IAEA for quite some time of regional Centers of Excellence where a single reactor can service many countries.

A research reactor may be constructed to meet the requirements of a single Member State or 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 local facility is more complicated but potentially highly beneficial, providing higher utilization and 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. The user may buy the flux share required for the research and temporarily give it away when it is not needed while preserving its user’s rights. Or he could 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. A creative research component goes to the International Research Centre on a long-term agreement.

RIAR will be bearing direct responsibility for liabilities, operation, and maintenance and the program's technical execution. RIAR will also provide extra laboratory services on site.

Consortium Leader of MBIR Reactor International Research Centre will manage the budgeting process, including consortium share (administrative costs of the consortium management) and the irradiation service budget, 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 IRC participants can be either individual structures, buying resources for their programs, or joining 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 flux sharing concept's ultimate perspective goal is to set up a system where the title for the flux share can become a marketable product applicable not only within the IRC MBIR community but also outside 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;
  • swapped in time, which may be of interest to members with small shares.