Russia to test Korea’s fast reactor fuel

8 November 2015

Russia's Research Institute of Atomic Reactors (NIIAR) and the Korean Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI) have signed a contract for irradiation studies of experimental fuel for KAERI's prototype Generation IV sodium-cooled fast neutron reactor (PGSFR).

"The contract provides that experimental fuel rods will be subjected to irradiation in Russia's BOR-60 fast reactor at parameters preset by KAERI; the fuel rods are planned for licensing under the PGSFR implementation project," a NIIAR statement said on 5 November.

Commissioning of the 150MWe PGSFR reactor in South Korea is planned in 2028. The design includes innovative engineering solutions, NIIAR notes. In particular, "the use of metallic fuel will ensure the inherent safety of the reactor". The work schedule provides for "receipt from South Korean regulatory authorities of the Specific Design Approval by 2020".

Having signed the contract, KAERI first vice president Hark Rho Kim emphasized that irradiation of experimental fuel rods in BOR-60 was one of tkey stages of the reactor's development. NIIAR director Alexander Tuzov noted that the new contract with KAERI was "the continuation of irradiation work and material science studies of structural materials to justify the South Korean project that have been carried out over the recent years in NIIAR."

South Korea has nearly 9,000t of used fuel stored in temporary storage pools with about 750t tons added every year. Existing storage could reach maximum capacity by 2021. The government has been considering several ways to tackle the problem, including pyroprocessing and a medium-term solution using dry casks as well as burning the used fuel in fast reactors.

To build the PGSFR, South Korea has partnered with the US Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), and the design is partly based on the Experimental Breeder Reactor-II (EBR-II) which was designed, built and operated by ANL until it was shut down in 1994. A memorandum of understanding was signed between ANL and KAERI in August 2014 to co-operate on the PGSFR with ANL contributing $6.78m to take part in the project. The PGSFR is to use metal fuel pins composed of low-enriched uranium and zirconium, and it can be subsequently reloaded with used fuel produced in other reactors. According to an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) datasheet, the objective of the PGSFR project is to test the performance of this fuel, and show PGSFR's ability to transmute the transuranics.

Metal fuel was first used in two experimental reactors at Argonne, Unit 1 at the Fermi nuclear plant in Michigan and the Dounreay nuclear plant in the UK. All these have now closed down and Russia is the only country with an operating fast reactor (BOR-60) which can test the fuel. BOR-60, commissioned in 1969, is extensively used by other countries for materials and fuel testing but it is due to close in 2020. It is "fully contracted till the end of its lifetime", according to Tuzon, when it will be replaced by a new multi-purpose fast neutron reactor (MBIR) now under construction. MBIR received its construction licence in May.

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