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IAEA and GIF Continue Dialogue and Cooperation on Next Generation Reactors

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Testing the chemistry of sodium coolants at the CARNAC experimental facility at Cadarache, France. The image shows glove boxes for the preparation of samples and reaction tests. (Photo: CEA)

Progress, status and future activities related to research, design and development of next generation reactor systems and several cross-cutting topics, such as the future energy markets, were addressed at two consecutive meetings between the IAEA and the Generation IV International Forum (GIF), held in Vienna last week.

“The longstanding dialogue between the GIF and the IAEA creates an important link between the IAEA’s diverse efforts to support its Member States and an important international R&D collaboration among several leading nuclear technology nations,” said Mikhail Chudakov, IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Energy.

The 13th GIF–IAEA Interface meeting, held on 18 and 19 March 2019, addressed areas of collaboration including nuclear safety, technology development, proliferation resistance and economics of next generation nuclear systems. In particular, meeting participants discussed the harmonization of safety approaches, Safety Design Criteria (SDC) and Safety Design Guidelines (SDG) for innovative reactors that are under development worldwide. This general discussion on safety was continued at the 8th Joint IAEA–GIF workshop on the safety of liquid metal cooled fast reactors (LMFRs).

Hideki Kamide, the newly appointed Chair of the GIF Policy Group, said that GIF and the IAEA have been cooperating on safety design criteria and safety design guidelines for sodium cooled fast reactors (SFRs). “Now we are expanding this collaboration to other reactor systems,” he said. “We want to achieve a common global understanding of these SDC and include in the discussion also regulators of these technologies. Safety and regulation issues are crucial for the commercialization of Generation IV reactor systems.”

The GIF–IAEA Interface meeting, a mechanism to decide on key areas of collaboration between the two organizations, heard the status of Generation IV systems developments and an update of IAEA activities in the technology development of advanced reactors. Participants also discussed opportunities and challenges for these reactor technologies in the future power market and shared respective activities. For example, the IAEA’s International Project on Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles (INPRO) is providing a new service to Member States on scenario modelling and analysis to support the sustainable development of nuclear energy.

In the area of safety, the IAEA presented its priorities related to advanced nuclear plant design, while GIF representatives discussed activities of their SDC task force and reactor safety and reliability working group.

“Using resources documented in the IAEA’s online catalogue of experimental facilities will help us to accelerate R&D activities on innovative reactors,” Mr Kamide added. The IAEA’s online catalogue of facilities in support of liquid metal-cooled fast neutron systems (LMFNS catalogue) includes an overview and detailed information on more than 150 experimental facilities under design, construction or operation. Nineteen institutions from 14 IAEA Member States participated in the development of the LMFNS catalogue.

“We want to achieve a common global understanding of safety design criteria for next generation nuclear reactors and include in the discussion also regulators of these technologies.
Hideki Kamide, Chair, GIF Policy Group

IAEA Deputy Director General Mikhail Chudakov (left) and Hideki Kamide, the newly appointed Chair of the GIF Policy Group (centre), at the 13th GIF–IAEA Interface Meeting, Vienna, 18 March 2019. (Photo: IAEA)

The 8th Joint IAEA–GIF workshop on LMFR safety took place from 20 to 22 March 2019. “This series of joint workshops started in 2010 under the framework of GIF–IAEA cooperation,” explained Dohee Hahn, Director of the IAEA Division of Nuclear Power. “Initially it focused on the safety of SFRs, but we have expanded our discussions to cover lead and lead-bismuth eutectic cooled fast reactors as well.”

Sodium cooled fast reactors have reached a high level of maturity through design, construction and operation of experimental and prototype reactors in the past decades. An industrial size SFR, the BN-800, is in operation in the Russian Federation. Lead-bismuth eutectic is an alloy of lead (44.5%) and bismuth (55.5%), proposed as a coolant for the lead-cooled fast reactor, one of the six next generation reactor systems chosen by GIF for further R&D.

Experts from 11 IAEA Member States and three international organizations shared information on advanced LMFR designs, recent R&D studies, related activity of GIF and IAEA, and discussed licensing frameworks for advanced reactors.  

They also discussed the updated version of the GIF report on Safety Design Guidelines for Gen-IV sodium cooled fast reactors that was reviewed recently by the IAEA. GIF representatives acknowledged the IAEA contributions and proposed another recently developed GIF report for a joint review by the IAEA Department of Nuclear Safety and Security and the Department of Nuclear Energy.

“We are glad that the IAEA is considering reviewing a new GIF document on safety design guidelines on key structures, systems and components for Gen-IV sodium cooled fast reactors,” said Mr Kamide.

The meeting also discussed a proposal to adopt a technology-neutral safety approach to develop safety design criteria for sodium and lead cooled fast reactors.

In addition, meeting participants reviewed the latest release of the LMFNS catalogue and welcomed holding revision meetings every two years in order to keep the catalogue up-to-date for use by all interested stakeholders.

“The insights gained from the presentations and discussions on design safety principles, innovative safety aspects and licensing frameworks will serve as basis for further discussions and point to a continuing interest for cooperation between the IAEA and GIF,” concluded Cornelia Spitzer, Head of the IAEA’s Safety Assessment Section.

Next generation reactors

The IAEA supports Member States in the development of innovative nuclear energy systems across the whole spectrum of technical areas. It fosters international cooperation on global nuclear energy sustainability and innovations, supports countries in their strategic long range nuclear energy planning, and provides collaborative frameworks for technology development in advanced reactors and the safe use of nuclear power for non-electric applications.

GIF is an international cooperative endeavour which was set up to carry out the R&D needed to establish the feasibility and performance capabilities of these next generation reactor systems. GIF selected six reactor technologies for further research and development, including gas cooled fast reactor (GFR), lead cooled fast reactor (LFR), molten salt reactor (MSR), supercritical water cooled reactor (SCWR), sodium cooled fast reactor (SFR) and very high temperature reactor (VHTR).

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