The International Atomic Energy Agency said in a statement on 27 April that, although member states continue to improve the safety of their research reactors, challenges remain, particularly in relation to regulatory effectiveness and ageing of facilities. Following a recent meeting of its technical working group on research reactors (TWGRR), the IAEA called for the rigorous application of IAEA safety standards to help address these issues.
Ageing management and effective use are major challenges for operators of research reactors. Many have been operating for decades. “Around half of the operating research reactors are over 40 years old and modernisation of these facilities is an issue of central concern to ensure they can continue to perform in a safe and efficient manner,” said Sean O’Kelly, chairman of the working group. The IAEA said many developing countries are increasingly interested in gaining access to research reactors for scientific and research purposes. Some are considering the construction of a domestic research reactor while others are considering accessing research reactors abroad.
The TWGRR, which comprises 20 technical experts, regulars and senior managers from countries with operating research reactors, aims to promote the efficient use of research reactors, critical and sub-critical assemblies, or facilities of a similar nature. It looks at the projected needs for research reactors on a global and regional basis. The group meets once a year to provide advice and recommendations to the IAEA on how to assist countries in optimising the operation of research reactors. Amgad Shokr, head of the IAEA's Research Reactor Safety Section, said: "Maintaining a high level of safety is essential to ensure effective utilisation of research reactors to maximise their benefits to the society."