In response to growing interest in establishing new national research reactors, the IAEA brought together 50 representatives from 30 Member States at a training workshop to explore such projects from multiple angles. The workshop on Specific Considerations and Milestones for a New Research Reactor Project, held from 12 to 16 May 2014 in Vienna, focused on the application of the IAEA "Milestones approach" to develop the national nuclear infrastructure in support of new research reactor projects.
The term research reactor (RR) refers to a variety of reactor designs with different power levels and diverse capabilities targeted at delivering a wide range of beneficial services that can contribute to a country's educational, industrial, scientific or technical development. This in turn can enhance a country's development objectives by improving health care and increasing industrial and agricultural productivity. Well utilized, safely operated and securely managed RRs have proven to be a valuable national investment for many Member States. However, building and maintaining a RR is a long-term national commitment that presents several challenges.
"A research reactor project is a major undertaking that requires careful preparation, planning, implementation and investment in time, money, and human resources," said Juan Carlos Lentijo, Director of the IAEA Nuclear Fuel Cycle and Waste Technology Division, during his welcome address at the workshop.
"To avoid underutilization," he said, "a RR should be justified based on sound stakeholders' interests and quantified needs, and requires strict attention to nuclear safety, international safeguards, nuclear security, and the control and accounting of nuclear materials." In this context, he stressed that for Member States embarking on RR projects, "the development and implementation of the supporting infrastructure for a RR is an issue of central concern."
The five-day training workshop provided practical information and knowledge on infrastructure-related issues to support the construction of a new RR. It highlighted relevant IAEA resources related to RR safety, security, safeguards, nuclear law, regulation, applications and utilization. Particular emphasis was given to the IAEA publication on Specific Considerations and Milestones for a Research Reactor Project (NES NP-T-5.1, 2012), also known as the "Research Reactor Milestones" publication. This publication sets out a systematic development approach that Member States are recommended to use in preparing for and implementing a new RR project.
Participants at the workshop shared experiences and discussed challenges and lessons learned in establishing new RR projects. With 50 attendees from 30 Member States, the larger-than-expected turnout facilitated fruitful discussions with input from key individuals responsible for RR projects within Member States, as well as IAEA staff who work on utilization, safety, security, safeguards, legal and technological aspects of research reactors.
This training workshop is one of the many activities the IAEA undertakes with Member States and other organizations to support the safe, secure and effective utilization of research reactors for peaceful uses of nuclear science and technology.
Research reactors have been at the centre of innovation and productivity for nuclear science and technology for more than 60 years. Currently, more than 50 countries operate a total of 246 research reactors. These installations are not used to generate power, but to provide a source of neutrons which can be used for research and education, non-destructive examination using neutron beams, analysing samples, testing of structural materials and fuels, neutron transmutation doping of silicon, and the production of radioisotopes used in medicine, agriculture and industry, ranging from cancer therapy to food sterilization and examination of welding at construction sites.
Research reactors typically have lower power and are simpler to operate than power reactors, which are primarily designed to generate electricity. However, some of the high performance research reactors are much more complex due to specific, application-tailored designs and numerous experimental auxiliary facilities, and operate at power levels approaching small nuclear power reactors. Research reactors also typically operate at a lower temperature, require less fuel and produce much less radioactive waste than power reactors. However, research reactors require specially designed features for their very high power density cores, specific utilization as well as appropriate site locations.