FALCON, a Consortium to build a Gen IV Lead Fast Reactor Demo in Romania
The FALCON (Fostering ALfred CONstruction) Consortium Agreement was signed on December 18th 2013 in Bucharest, at a ceremony in the presence of Romanian Energy Minister Constantin Nita, by the legal representatives of the Consortium members: Ansaldo Nucleare (Roberto Adinolfi), ENEA (Giovanni Lelli) and Nuclear Research Institute “ICN” (Constantin Paunoiu). This represents the first step towards the construction of a demonstrator for the Generation IV liquid lead-cooled nuclear fast reactor in Romania. The site selected by the Romanian Authorities is Mioveni, near Pitesti in Southern Romania.
ALFRED, Advanced Lead Fast Reactor European Demonstrator - the name given to this pilot plant - represents the solution that has emerged from a European research effort, to improve the safety of next generation nuclear power plants. The main goal is to maintain the nuclear energy source as an important contributor to the development of a low-carbon emission energy system. It is the result of a joint European effort led by Italian industry, universities and research centers which began in the 1990s, with the goal of establishing a new category of high safety fission reactors based on passive safety systems concepts.
Until now the design of the ALFRED demonstrator has been developed in the framework of the EURATOM 7th Framework Programme, with Ansaldo Nucleare leading the work on system integration and ENEA on technology development, while the Italian University system has organized training activities for students who have been given the opportunity to learn by playing an active role in the project. The Romanian Nuclear Research Institute ICN has been participating in design work on ALFRED right from the outset, thus contributing to the engineering of the reactor core and promoting preliminary activities in Romania needed to obtain approval for the project.
ALFRED is one of the projects supported by the European Sustainable Nuclear Industrial Initiative (ESNII), which brings together industry and research partners in the development of so-called Generation IV Fast Neutron Reactor technology, as part of the EU's Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET-Plan). ESNII was set up under the umbrella of the Sustainable Nuclear Energy Technology Platform (SNETP), formed in 2007 and brings together more than 90 stakeholders involved in nuclear fission.
The Consortium, set up by the above first three signatories, will be extended to include other European organizations that have already expressed their interest. It will use an ‘in kind’ mechanisms in order to procure the resources needed to complete the first technology development and design phase. The consortium aims to obtain funding for the reactor construction phase through EU resources allocated to R&D infrastructure (the so-called infra-structural or cohesion funds) in new member states, as well as loans from the European Investment Bank.
The main motivation for the development of a Generation IV lead-cooled fast reactor is based on the sustainability of the nuclear energy source in the long term and in the very high level of safety of reactors design thanks to the intrinsic features of the coolant. The sustainability of the fuel cycle is achieved by the implementation of the so-called closed fuel cycle: the energy content of fissile material is used efficiently while used fuel is recycled inside the reactor, drastically reducing the amount of long-life radioactive waste produced and assuring long term fuel availability. As far as safety is concerned, the lead coolant presents several advantages amongst traditional coolants: the nuclear characteristics of lead with low absorption cross sections and high scattering allows the designers to largely space the fuel pins, reducing the pressure drop of the system and enhancing the natural circulation of the primary side. With the typical configuration of the primary system allocated in a non-pressurized large pool (lead boiling point is above 1700 °C) the introduction of a passive safety system is strongly favored and the absence of chemical interaction between lead and water permits to install steam generators directly in the primary pool with important simplification of the system, able to produce important reduction on the total cost of construction and maintenance.
Given the increased interest at international level in lead technologies, the FALCON Agreement will be open to international partners as soon as the preparatory activities (scheduled to last 18 months) will be completed. The realization of ALFRED demonstrator will bring and maintain the European organizations to the cutting edge of nuclear fission research in the coming decades.