European Nuclear Society president says plants essential for rollout of advanced technologies

ENS president Stafano Monti, pictured last month, said research reactors are instrumental in testing fuels and materials used in reactors operating today and also those of the future.

An ambitious deployment of Generation III reactors in Europe coupled with the expected development and demonstration of small and advanced reactor technologies will require “substantial efforts” in research, development, and innovation and associated infrastructures, including research reactors, said Stefano Monti, president of the European Nuclear Society (ENS).

Monti told the RRFM 2024 research reactor conference in Warsaw on 22 April that research reactors “have been, are and will be” instrumental in the testing and qualification of fuels and materials used in reactors operating today, but also those of the future.

Research reactors are also essential for long-term operation efforts of current nuclear fleet operators in Europe and elsewhere because they allow for the testing of samples under irradiation and verify that structural materials are still acceptable for use, Monti said.

He said new “evolutionary and advanced” reactor systems to be deployed in coming years will introduce very specific research needs such as more demanding conditions, new materials and fuels and in some cases the need for tests under fast spectrum conditions.

All these needs can be met by research reactors, Monti said, but he added that “contrary to those needs, investment [in research reactors] has been declining in recent years, a number of them have been even permanently shut down due to aging”.

“We urgently need to reverse this trend and to ensure that governments, institutions, and financial bodies have a key role in this effort,” Monti warned.

He underlined the important role research reactors play and will need to play for education and training purposes to prepare the next generation of nuclear scientists, engineers and technicians.

Research Reactors Have Key Role For Newcomer Countries

Monti said research reactor deployment and operation can support commercial nuclear power programmes for newcomer countries.

“Starting from a research reactor programme can serve as a stepping stone towards future nuclear power deployment.”

Monti praised the role research reactors play in radioisotope production. Radioisotopes provide “crucial means” for ensuring each year the diagnosis and treatment through nuclear medicine for more than 10 million patients in Europe alone, he said.

Last month, the ENS High Scientific Council said in a position paper that substantial efforts are needed in research, development, and innovation if nuclear power is to fulfil its vital role.

Monti said at the time that Europe is lagging behind the rest of the world in key areas of nuclear research and will need at least a decade to catch up with the likes of Russia, China and India.

According to International Atomic Energy Agency data, Europe has 39 research reactors in operation of various types and sizes, a figure that includes seven in Belarus, Ukraine, and Turkey. Another 55 are either being decommissioned, or are in extended or permanent shutdown.

Only two are under construction – Pallas in the Netherlands and Jules Horowitz in France. The Myrrha fast reactor in Belgium is in the planning stages.

In Europe, four reactors are responsible for most medical radioisotope production: the HFR in the Netherlands, BR2 in Belgium, LVR15 in the Czech Republic and the Maria reactor in Poland.

In Europe, the Maria research reactor in Poland is one of only four that produce most medical radioisotopes.

Date: Friday, 26 April 2024
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