MBIR, the world's most powerful fast research reactor, will be launched in 2028 with the International Research Centre (IRC) to be created on its basis. The MBIR IRC Advisory Board has recently been established to develop the research program for the reactor. The Board Chairman – Stepan Kalmykov, the Dean of the Faculty of Chemistry, Moscow State University (MSU), a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), tells about which countries and under what conditions can join this project.
Stepan Kalmykov is the Dean of the MSU's Faculty of Chemistry, the Head of the Radiochemistry Department. A corresponding member of the RAS. A member of the Rosatom's Science and Technology Council (STC) – the Deputy Chairman of the STC's fifth section "Closing the Nuclear Fuel Cycle." The Deputy Chairman of the Interdepartmental Scientific Council for Radiochemistry at the Presidium of the RAS and the State Corporation.
– Please, tell us about your joint work with Rosatom.
– We have been working with the State Corporation for twenty years now. As a part of the cooperation between MSU, RAS, and Rosatom, we are implementing several major projects in two areas: radioactive waste management methods and production of isotopes and radiopharmaceuticals for nuclear medicine.
I am also the Deputy Chairman of the State Corporation's Science and Technology Council in the field of "The Closing Stage of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle."
– What are the tasks of the Advisory Board?
– It is impossible to build the new nuclear power industry without science. For this purpose, scientists need research reactors that can be used to develop methods and to create new materials for future generations of nuclear power plants.
The Advisory Board is an expert community of researchers that will determine the main areas of studies at MBIR and develop the scientific program taking into account the interests of all Consortium participants. In 2021, Rosatom approved the Advanced scientific research programme for the 2028-2040 period to be implemented at the MBIR reactor, and we have taken it as a basis in our work with foreign scientists to develop it into a global international program.
Participation in research at MBIR will allow the project partners to develop their own national programs on fast reactors topics. I am sure that many countries are interested in conducting experiments using a wide range of neutrons. Such studies are essential to substantiate the methods for closing the fuel cycle at the experimental technological level and to validate the reliability and service life of structural, fuel, and absorbing materials of fast reactors being designed.
The modern research infrastructure of MBIR will allow us to research new structural and absorbing materials to justify the development of Generation IV reactor units, to study promising types of fuels and fuel elements, and to develop technology for closing the nuclear fuel cycle, to produce radioactive isotopes for solving industrial and medical problems, and to carry out research in the field of fundamental atomic physics and modified materials. In addition, MBIR will contribute to developing scientific schools, it will create opportunities for training personnel for high-tech industries and developing modern research methods.
– Who do you consider as your future partners?
– On the one hand, these are Russian scientific centers: the Kurchatov Institute, RAS institutes, the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research, and leading universities. On the other hand, these are institutions of the Eurasian continent, including China, India, and Latin American countries. Particular attention to the project is observed among representatives of the Old-World countries. There is a great interest in MBIR among novice players in the nuclear technology: firstly, these are the African countries, and secondly, the CIS states.
Capital costs for creating powerful research reactors amount to hundreds of millions and even billions of dollars, while their operation costs tens of millions of dollars per year. So, not all countries can afford their construction and maintenance. There is an illustrative example of Belarus and Uzbekistan. In these countries, the decision to create nuclear power plants was made when there were national nuclear research institutes with a long history of operation and experimental use of research reactors that had been built in the USSR in the 1950s–1960s. The experience and knowledge gained at these plants certainly provided significant support in the discussion of the engineering details of future NPPs. Today, we can see that Uzbekistan is investing a lot in the training of radiochemists and nuclear physicists; the country is open to innovation and is actively cooperating with Rosatom. I think we have good prospects for cooperation.
– Who will be on the Board?
– Representatives of our partner country institutions, as I mentioned above. They have already proposed their candidates for the Advisory Board. In June, we are planning to hold the first meeting of the Board to approve its composition and to propose a work plan, whereas the next major event – the "Radiochemistry" conference at the Radium Institute – is scheduled for September 26 to 30. The expected number of participants, scientists, and experts is over 500 people, and we are planning to create separate sections dedicated to MBIR.
As I already said, the Advanced scientific research programme for the 2028-2040 period to be implemented at the MBIR reactor was approved in 2021, and this is a kind of menu – the list of possible studies. It takes into account that the center of research will be not only the reactor, but also hot chambers and a multifunctional radiochemical system. After all, most experiments require not only irradiation, but also post-reactor studies. A separate section includes educational programs. We are ready to train foreign specialists in radiation technology using unique experimental facilities, because one of the MBIR's main tasks is the generation of knowledge.
– At what stage should your partners invest in MBIR if applying for participation in the project?
– The access of Russian and foreign partners to the reactor is provided via a legal platform that is unique for Russia – the IRC MBIR Consortium. When joining the Consortium at the construction stage, participants enjoy significant financial and economic benefits. There are two forms of cooperation: principal and associated members. Those who want to become the principal member are to pay at the construction stage a part of funds for the resource to be used. They will be granted advantages when creating national scientific programs and will be able to make changes to the research plan so as to suit their needs in a priority manner and at an attractive price. Another format is associated membership. These participants will be able to join the project after the reactor will be launched, but the price for services will be higher for them. We also invite to the Advisory Board those who have not yet decided on the form of their participation. For them, we have provided an opportunity to enter the Board for a certain period, during which the partners must decide on their form of participation in the Consortium and the research program.
– When should the IRC MBIR international research program be developed?
– We are working to create a draft international research program by the end of 2023, taking into account the main wishes of our partners.
– Does MBIR have any competitors in the world?
– Our country and Rosatom retain unconditional leadership in the development of the Generation IV reactor program. There are no similar projects in the global nuclear industry at such a high stage of readiness as MBIR.
– What area of research at MBIR interests you the most as a scientist?
– Deep fractionation of radioactive waste. Americium, europium, and curium are elements that are very similar in their chemical properties. But it would be great to separate them and to treat each of them in its own way. We can burn up the long-lived americium.