Chain reactions

2 February 2017

Vyacheslav Pershukov, deputy director general of Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom, discusses his, and his organisation’s hopes for the multipurpose fast research reactor and how the project is gaining international interest.

Nuclear Engineering International (NEI): Please describe the multipurpose fast research reactor (MBIR) and the rationale for this project.

Vyacheslav Pershukov (VP): Today global atomic energy is facing increasing competition from other energy sources, and with certain internal problems of its own it has to go to the next technological level in order to deal with this negative trend. Nuclear energy’s transition to a closed fuel cycle, which is based on fast neutron reactors, will lead to the solution of the
five key problems: safety, competitiveness, shortage of the fuel, reprocessing and refabricating of used nuclear fuel and radioactive waste, as well as enforcement technologies to strengthen the non- proliferation of fission materials and weapons. With the help of the fast neutron reactors, it is possible to solve the major ecological problem of reprocessing and deactivation of the accumulated radioactive waste, at the same time providing society with much needed energy. This brings us closer to achieving sustainable nuclear energy with no need for the expensive waste management which we have today.

The vast majority of the research reactors for materials testing in the world were put into service more than 40 years ago. Currently we see that the international scientific community is starting to have a deficit in modern large research reactors, which are absolutely necessary for the development of the Generation 4 technologies, life extension of nuclear plants, life prolongation and increased efficiency. By 2020-2025, the global experimental base will become very limited as reactors reach their operating limit or are unable to fulfil the research needs faced by science at that time.

In Russia construction of the new multipurpose research reactor MBIR is being realised under a federal target programme (FTP), ‘Nuclear energy technologies of the new generation for the period 2010-2015 and until the year 2020’. The purpose of the programme is to create a new technological platform for nuclear energy, which will be based on a closed fuel cycle with fast neutron reactors. 

NEI: What is the primary purpose of MBIR?

VP: The main purpose of the research reactor MBIR is to conduct a large number of reactor studies of new prospective materials and active zone (core) elements for Generation 4 nuclear systems. This includes fast neutron reactors based on the closed fuel cycle, as well as small and medium power thermal neutron reactors. The first criticality of MBIR should take place by 2020, in accordance with the FTP.

Another key development is that, based on MBIR, we are creating a modern research facility not only for our use but in effect for the whole world. Rosatom is open to mutually beneficial cooperation in this project, and therefore we decided to set up an International Research Centre (IRC) with the reactor as Rosatom has offered international partners this unique opportunity – to join the IRC and participate in the creation of the research infrastructure, which is focused on solving the important science problems related to innovative reactor concepts related to all current and future technical requirements.

A unique research facility with such a high neutron flux cannot be realised on a small scale or as a modular facility, therefore a high cost is inevitable. This brings us to the idea promoted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for regional “collective use centres”, in which one reactor can be used by multiple international users. Today we are inviting Indian partners to take participate in such a collective centre of excellence – the IRC based on MBIR.

NEI: What are the MBIR parameters and what are the areas of its use?

VP: Today in Russia we have a successful working fast sodium research reactor, BOR 60. However, it is more than 45 years old. The crucial difference between MBIR and BOR 60 is that MBIR is being designed and built as a research facility. MBIR’s design includes three independent loops, which can be used to test different coolants (gas, lead, molten salt and others) making it possible to conduct materials testing research in those different environments. MBIR is also almost three times as large as BOR 60, which will allow more experiments to be conducted.

The trend of fast research reactor development shows that, by 2025, MBIR can be a unique facility in the world.

The thermal power of MBIR is 150MWt (around 55MWe), maximum neutron flux is 5.3·1015 n/cm2s. This parameter will make MBIR one of the most powerful reactors in the world. The maximum yearly displacements per atom in the channels exceed 34 dpa/year.

In summary, MBIR will have three independent loops with external cooling, a number of instrumented cells in the active zone, and a large number of cells for materials testing of assemblies.

MBIR’s technical parameters will make it possible to carry out a large number of tasks, including experimental support for the R&D conducted to create new generation innovative nuclear energy facilities. The reactor will enable us to realise and perfect the closed fuel cycle and radioactive waste utilisation; conduct complex research on materials testing, including the creation of new construction materials, fuel and absorbing materials; and to perform complex experimental tasks using neutrons for fundamental studies.

NEI: So what makes MBIR unique?

VP: Power is not the most important feature of the research reactor. However it is directly related to the neutron flux, which is the main research instrument. The neutron flux directly influences the time needed to conduct the irradiation experiments, and the ability to conduct ten years of research in three years is extremely important to scientists worldwide. This is one of the key advantages of high-flux reactors, another is the ability to conduct research in a wide range of temperatures.

By participating in the IRC project, international partners will receive access to a unique research facility, not available anywhere else in the world, while optimising the cost. In other words, our partners will be able to share the risks and costs, but keep the whole potential effect of their research conducted on MBIR.

The merging of financial and scientific resources will increase the effectiveness for all the participants. In addition, “early bird” participants will have an opportunity to influence how the reactor is equipped and its research programme priorities. Our goal is for the IRC to become a platform for opinion and experience exchange, and centre of competences for Generation 4 technologies.

NEI: What is the current status of the IRC and the international partnership?

VP: It is important to stress that 2016 is the starting point for IRC-related activities. This activity was started because of confirmed interest from the international community.

Construction of MBIR began in September 2015 along with the launch of the IRC as Rosatom’s independent project. At this point, we have two memorandums of understanding in place and we plan to sign a few more before the end of the year. Thus, we will form a community of key participants (and hope that India will be one of them), which will have an opportunity to influence the development of the project and its key terms of participation. Our goal is to form an advisory board, which will be in charge of research-related topics, including multilateral research programmes, even before the IRC incorporation. In 2017 we expect to finalise the key terms of participation with our key partners, and start registration and incorporation of the IRC as a legal entity.  

MBIR Vyacheslav Pershukov, deputy director general of Rosatom

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