IAEA Coordinates Research on Fast Reactor Safety Features

Experimental Breeder Reactor-II (EBR-II) at Argonne National Laboratory (Photo: Argonne, USA)

8 November 2013 - Experts from 11 Member States participating in an IAEA project have this week presented first results from their simulation and modelling work on how sodium cooled fast reactors (SFRs) would stand a severe accident.

The IAEA Coordinated Research Project (CRP) on “Benchmark Analyses of an EBR-II Shutdown Heat Removal Test” provides the international framework for demonstrating inherent safety features of sodium cooled fast reactors (SFRs).

“Evaluations of the passive safety capabilities of SFRs have acquired increased importance in the aftermath of the Fukushima accident,” said Laural Briggs from the Argonne National Laboratory, USA, who chairs the CRP. “These evaluations require simulation tools and models validated against data from simulations of severe accidents.”

Using experimental data provided by Argonne from the US Experimental Breeder Reactor-II (EBR-II), twenty research teams from eleven Member States are participating in the four-year project, which started in 2012. Argonne is the lead technical organization for the CRP, in addition to participating in the project.

The EBR-II was a sodium-cooled fast reactor designed, built and operated by Argonne at what is now the Idaho National Laboratory in the USA. Shutdown heat removal tests performed at the EBR-II in the 1980s demonstrated the potential of SFRs to survive accidents more severe than what happened at Fukushima, with no core damage. Extensive core and plant data were recorded during the EBR-II experiments. They were also featured in a 2013 documentary film about the nuclear power debate, “Pandora’s Promise”, directed by Robert Stone. The reactor was shut down in 1994.

“The project provides opportunities for Member States to improve their safety analysis capabilities in the field of fast reactor simulation and design,” said Stefano Monti, Scientific Secretary of the CRP and Leader of the IAEA Fast Reactor Technology Development Team. “This international benchmark exercise also helps train the next generation of fast reactor analysts and designers.”

Experts from China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Netherlands, Russian Federation, Switzerland and the USA, who participate in the CRP, have presented first results from their work at the second project meeting at the IAEA this week. They have analyzed benchmark specifications developed by Argonne for two of the experiments in the shutdown heat removal testing programme and compared their predictions against recorded data.

The next steps will be to refine the models, based on lessons learned from the meeting and a comparison with experimental data. Another meeting is planned for 2015, when participants will present their final results, along with recommendations for further improvement and development of their codes and models. These will be documented in an IAEA technical publication.

“The final goal is that Member States interested in fast reactor technology will be able to validate simulation tools necessary for the design and the safety analysis of innovative reactor types,” concluded Mr Monti.