RRFM / IGORR 2007 – the success of synergy!

The IGORR (International Group Operating Research Reactors) conference took place this year in Lyon, France, from 12-14 March, where it joined forces with the RRFM Conference (Research Reactor Fuel Management), to create the first ever RRFM/IGORR.

RRFM 2007 Participants

The RRFM is a well-established annual event that takes place in Europe and focuses on all questions relating to the management of fuel for research reactors.

The IGORR conference is a biannual event that brings together experts from all around the world in the field of research reactor technology. In addition to focusing on the management of research operators, IGORR also puts the debating spotlight on the design, construction and operation of new research reactor types.

The synergy between RRFM and IGORR was perfect and the two merged into one seamlessly. A total of 290 participants from 38 countries congregated in Lyon to take part in the numerous plenary and parallel sessions. Here is a summary of the main highlights of RRFM/IGORR 2007:

After some introductory words from the two co-chairmen – Edgar Koonen of SCK-CEN who spoke on behalf of RRFM and Joël Guidez, Chairman of IGORR and Director of the Pheonix Plant – a speech was given by the High Commissioner for Atomic Energy at the CEA (Commissariat à l’Energie), B. Bigot. Mr Bigot’s speech focused on the social contribution that nuclear research reactors make in diverse areas such as medical applications, the irradiation of new materials, developing new fuels for the nuclear industry, education and training, research into the structure of mass and nano technologies and defence and space exploration technologies. One of the new reactor projects that were presented was the Jules Horowitz Reactor (JHR), which is currently under construction at Cadarache, France. The JHR is financed by a consortium of contributing countries that will benefit from first use of the results of its research programmes.

The Plenary Session on Day 1 of RRFM/IGORR 2007 kicked off with a general overview of the status of current research reactors around the world. The impressive planning behind the Australian OPAL reactor that started operation in 2006 was one focus of attention. A presentation was also given on the JHR project and how the signing of an agreement by the consortium partners on 19 March 2007 provided a framework for an international organisation to carry out the project.

A status report on the construction, in Beijing, of the Chinese reactor, CARR, was then presented, detailing the safety profile of the reactor. The CARR reactor should be up and running in 2008. Delegates were then given an outline of the work carried out by the ILL neutron beam reactor in Grenoble, France, which is financed by 13 countries.

Next on the agenda was an appreciation of the civil applications of Libya’s only research reactor, notably its use in the fields of the desalination of sea water and the development of medical radioisotopes.

Delegates’ attention then switched to a presentation on the current functioning of the CEA’s Pheonix reactor, in France, and of future Generation IV reactors - especially rapid sodium reactors. These developments were discussed within the context of the sustainable development debate because these reactor types multiply by 100% the use of the uranium, which in turn avoids any problem of supply and allows thousands of years of production. What’s more, current research with the Pheonix reactor highlights how these reactors enable long-lived radioactive waste to be burnt with only rapidly decaying waste (a few hundred years) as the end product.

The applied research being carried into these reactors by international organisations was also discussed at length by RRFM/IGORR 2007 participants. The IAEA, for example, presented the work done by its TWGRR (Technical Working Group on Research Reactors) team. This work facilitates the exchange of knowledge and expertise, provides technical support and helps with the elaboration of recommendations.

Participants then focused on various recent works published on the subject of the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) and the related work carried out across the world to recuperate and render safe HEU nuclear fuel (an enrichment level of over 20%). This naturally led to a discussion on the latest work being done to convert reactors to use fuel that is enriched by up to 20% (LEU)

The agenda for the next two days of the conference consisted of a series of parallel sessions devoted to a range of specialised topics, in particular discussions about the new nuclear fuel “UMO” and neutron calculations in reactor cores. As far as the UMO fuel is concerned, delegates were reminded that for certain reactor types the conversion from HEU fuel to LEU fuel leads to an unacceptable reduction in operational efficiency and a loss of flux characteristics. This fact has in turn lead to applied research into UMO fuel, which enables greater density and reduces to a minimum what is lost during the conversion process. The development of UMO fuel has been hindered in recent years by difficulties linked essentially to the interaction between the fuel and the cladding, which has led to the bursting of the cladding during qualification tests in the reactors. Various rather empirical methods to overcome the problem of interaction are being applied (e.g. the addition of silicon to the cladding, the covering of the fuel, etc.). At present, no valid solution has been, found and research continues.

Another highlight on the programme was a presentation on the conversion of reactors, most notably the conversion to 20% silicon of the SAFARI reactor in Africa. Work on this is ongoing. The estimated loss in terms of neutron flux availability during the conversion process is around 8%.

Overall, RRFM/IGORR 2007 was a resounding success, in keeping with the individual reputations of the RRFM and IGORR conferences.

The next RRFM conference will take place in 2008 in Hamburg, Germany. The next IGORR conference will take place in Beijing in 2009, either in conjunction with the RERTR conference or with a conference devoted to research reactors in Asia.

(Joël Guidez - CEZ)

If you need more information on RRFM/IGORR2007 visit the ENS website at: www.rrfm2007.org

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