New installations at von Karman Institute drive MYRRHA forward

On 30 January, VKI and SCK•CEN inaugurated two new unique installations in the presence of State Secretary Philippe Courard; one with which seismic activity is imitated and the other a scale model of the MYRRHA research reactor.

The installations and research of the von Karman Institute (VKI) are renowned worldwide, especially in the context of the environment, turbomachinery and space travel. The researchers, who among other things are making tomorrow’s aircraft engines quieter and ‘greener’ or are optimising the architecture of our cities in order to reduce air and environmental pollution, are now contributing to MYRRHA as well.

In 2011, a joint venture agreement was signed between SCK•CEN and VKI, which was given the name DEMOCRITOS (Demonstration of Myrrha Operation and CRITical Objects for Safety). The joint venture is concentrating on a number of the research reactor’s critical components. VKI’s knowledge in thermohydraulics, specific measuring techniques and designing circulating pumps is of significant benefit to the MYRRHA project.

“In order to develop and design MYRRHA, we can count on the knowledge of the best researchers and engineers in the world”, endorsed Hamid Aït Abderrahim, Director of the MYRRHA project and SCK•CEN Deputy Director General. “Sometimes you need not look far to find the ideal partner. The fruitful collaboration with VKI is testimony to the value and strength of Belgian research centres.”

Vibration and fluidity

The two installations, which VKI built within the framework of the DEMOCRITOS project, were named SHAKESPEARE and MYRRHABelle. They are of great value for optimising the design of the MYRRHA reactor. They will also provide a scientific answer to the questions of the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC) with regard to the safety.

The three-dimensional vibrating table, SHAKESPEARE, enables seismic activity to be simulated. For instance, it is possible to study the effect of an earthquake on a scale model of MYRRHA and the internal coolant. Such a study is crucially important in preventing fluid movements damaging the reactor vessel or the reactor’s other components.

MyrrhaBelle is a 1/5 scale model of the MYRRHA reactor part, including all such essential elements as the reactor core, heat exchanger and circulating pumps. Water is used in this installation to visualise and study the coolant flows. If the coolant does not flow optimally, it could damage the reactor’s components.

“Twelve researchers, science graduates and post-graduates at VKI have been working on the DEMOCRITOS project for three years. BELSPO has freed a budget of 3.5 million euros for financing this. Thanks to innovative research infrastructures such as MYRRHA, a new generation of scientists is being trained in Belgium”, explains Philippe Courard, State Secretary responsible for science policy.

The collaboration between the two institutions is set to end on a high in 2014. SCK•CEN and VKI wish to continue the research and to explore certain specific subjects in greater depth. One of the first objectives of the DEMOCRITOS II research project could be to move from the circulating pump now elaborated on paper to having it function in reality by means of an initial prototype.


Photo: from left to right:
Jean-Pierre Contzen, VKI chairman
Hamid Aït Abderrahim, MYRRHA director (SCK•CEN)
Philippe Courard, State Secretary for science
Jean Muylaert, VKI director
Philippe Mettens, federal science policy director
Derrick Gosselin, SCK•CEN chairman

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