Specialists in reactor fuel management research gather in Sofia for RRFM 2006

The 10th annual Research Reactor Fuel Management conference (RRFM 2006) took place in Sofia, from 30 April to 3 May. It was organised by ENS, in collaboration with the Bulgarian Nuclear Society and Bulgaria’s Institute for Nuclear Research and Nuclear Energy (INRNE). Approximately 200 delegates from Europe, as well as countries like the US, Argentina, Vietnam and China, met in the Bulgarian capital to discuss the latest developments in this highly technical field and to address some of the most pressing issues relating reactor fuel management.

Among the key topics on the conference agenda were fuel development, qualification, fabrication and licensing; spent fuel-management back-end options, transportation of spent fuel and reactor fuel safety. The keynote speakers included scientists, consultants and senior management staff from organisations like the IAEA, the US Department of Energy (DOE), the CEA (France) COGEMA Logistics, the Russian Academy of Science and the Dutch research centre, NRG.

RRFM 2006 kicked off with a session devoted to discussions of a broad range of issues of general interest to the research reactor community. Since the conference took place in Sofia, the first presentation was a situation update in Bulgaria. It featured a progress report on the reconstruction of the IRT 2000 research reactor (a water-water pool-type reactor), in Sofia. The IRT 2000 is a reactor used to produce electricity for civil consumption. However, since it can never be totally excluded that new or spent fuels is somehow illicitly misappropriated for military usage several initiatives aimed at preventing such a scenario from happening were launched. Among them are: the GTRI (Global Threat Reduction Initiative), which oversees the RERTR (Reduced Enrichment for Research and Test Reactors) Programme, the foreign Research Reactor Spent Fuel Acceptance Programme, the Russian Research Reactor Fuel Return Programme, the Global Research Reactor Security Programme and the GAP (a programme filling an existing gap) Materials Programme.

Under the GAP programme, GTRI works to develop partnerships with government agencies and operators to identify, remove and facilitate the final disposal of GAP materials. The first product of this collaborative effort was the project carried out by GTRI and AREVA to decide upon potential reprocessing at AREVA’s specialised facilities in France.

During this first session, delegates were also given an overview of global activities involving TRIGA reactors. One special application that was outlined was the reconstruction of the ENEA Triga RC-1 research reactor as part of the TRADE project (an ADS feasibility system).

The second session covered what is traditionally the hottest topic on the RRFM agenda, namely fuel development, qualification and licensing. This subject is of fundamental importance to any enrichment reduction initiative. The goal of research in this area is the final qualification of a high-density UMo fuel by the end of 2010 and the conversion of all reactors, including the US domestic high-power reactors, by 2014.

This year, RRFM also heard about the very encouraging results that have emerged from tests involving the addition of silicon in the aluminum matrix of dispersed fuels. Another issue analysed by delegates was the behaviour of UMo monolithic fuels under irradiation.

The third session was dedicated to spent fuel management, back-end options and transportation. Special emphasis was placed on the conditions required to ensure the safe long-term storage of aluminum clad fuels under water. Finally, delegates heard about the conditions and procedures that must be respected to ensure the successful reprocessing of MTR fuels at the La Hague plant, in France.

Session 4 focused on reactor operation, fuel safety and core conversion projects that have been carried out with the ITR-Sofia, FRM-II, HFR-Petten and HOR-Delft reactors. Other projects in this area that were presented included a new concept for a super high-flux reactor, the qualification of a Chilean test fuel element and the safety evaluation of the IRIS experiment.

In parallel to Session 4, RRFM included for the first time an extra session, entitled Innovative Methods in Research Reactors.

Once again, RRFM, one of ENS’ flagship annual technical conferences, proved to be a very successful platform for the exchanges of views and data between professionals in the nuclear energy sector. It is also a useful catalyst for discussion about the major factors influencing the future direction of reactor fuel management research.

For more information about RRFM - the full agenda, speakers, copies of the presentations etc., please visit the RRFM pages of the ENS website at: www.rrfm2006.org

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