Power plant design

Innovation for tomorrow

29 September 2005

Several nuclear energy systems are being assessed under the IAEA’s International Project on Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles. By Judith Perera

The International Project on Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles (INPRO) was launched by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2000, following an initiative by the Russian Federation supported by other IAEA member states to facilitate the development of advanced nuclear reactor and fuel cycle technology.

The international effort aims to ensure that nuclear energy is available to contribute to fulfilling energy needs in the 21st century. Through the programme, all interested member states, both technology holders and technology users, are brought together to consider the actions required to achieve the desired innovations in nuclear reactors and fuel cycles. These are based as much as practically possible on systems that have inherent safety features, and minimise the risk of proliferation and the impact on the environment.

The number of INPRO members has grown from 13 to 22. The current members include: Argentina, Armenia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Czech Republic, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Netherlands, Morocco, Republic of Korea, Pakistan, Russian Federation, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey and the European Commission. In addition, a total of 25 cost-free experts have been nominated by governments or international organisations to work within INPRO’s international coordinating group.

Although INPRO received general support through resolutions of the IAEA General Conferences in 2001 and 2002, it was only in July 2003 that the IAEA board of governors agreed to provide INPRO with some regular budgetary support. By this time, Phase IA of the project, which started in 2001, was completed. This resulted in a technical document, Guidance for the Evaluation of Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles, issued in June 2003, which provides a methodology for assessing an innovative nuclear energy system (INS) based on a set of basic principles, user requirements and criteria in the areas of economics, sustainability and environment, safety, waste management, proliferation resistance and recommendations on cross cutting issues.

The first part of Phase 1B, which began in July 2003 and ended in December 2004, tested INPRO’s methodology using six national and eight individual case studies. The national studies comprised:

  • Argentina with CAREM-X (integrated small PWR).
  • India with AHWR (advanced heavy water reactor).
  • South Korea with DUPIC (direct use of spent PWR fuel in Candu reactors).
  • Russia with BN family (fast sodium cooled reactor).
  • China with PBR (small pebble bed reactor).
  • Czech Republic with molten salt reactor.
The individual case studies comprised:

  • Russia (international fuel centre; SMR; ADS/fusion/renewables; hydrogen/desalination; modelling DESAE code).
  • India (international fuel centre).
  • France (transition from present LWRs to fast reactors).
  • Argentina (autonomous fuel cycle).
Through these studies, Phases 1A and 1B (first part) elaborated, tested and validated the methodology which was published as IAEA TECDOC-1434. This will now serve as a basis for comparing different INSs and to assess their compliance with sustainability goals.

At its seventh meeting in December 2004 in Vienna, the INPRO steering committee decided that, using the methodology, assessments of different INSs should begin and a number of INPRO members presented proposals for national and multilateral projects. These included Russia’s proposal for a joint study on an INS based on a closed nuclear fuel cycle with fast reactors (CNFC-FR). The study, which is part of INPRO’s Phase IB (second part) activity, was initiated by the Russian Federation in December 2004 and subsequently joined by China, India, Republic of Korea and France as participants and Japan as an observer.

The steering committee established terms of reference for the second part of Phase 1B and for Phase 2. In the second part of Phase 1B (2005 to mid 2006) INPRO members (nationally or jointly) are using the methodology to assess innovative technologies and the results will be used to finalise a users’ manual and to identify and develop models, codes and techniques. Members will also consider projects for collaborative R&D during Phase 2 (starting mid 2006). Efforts are also continuing to develop collaboration with other national and international projects such as the Generation IV International Forum (GIF).

INPRO Phase 2, which starts in mid 2006, will involve activities related to research, development and demonstration (RD&D), institutions and infrastructure, and methodology. RD&D oriented activities will include: facilitation of assessments of INS in member states; provision of a forum for identification and prioritisation of RD&D; assistance in assessing RD&D progress and reorientation; and preparation of country profiles on RD&D programmes.

Institutional/infrastructure oriented activities will include:

  • Evaluation of potential role of INS for sustainable development.
  • Promotion of use of INS for electricity production and non-nuclear applications.
  • Assistance in harmonising licensing, industrial codes and standards.
  • Facilitation of international design certification.
  • Support of analyses for optimised fuel cycle strategies.
Methodology oriented activities will involve continuous development and refinement of INPRO’s assessment methods.

CNFC-FR joint study

The first meeting of the scientific and technical committee (STC), which was set up to direct the Russian-led CNFC-FR joint study, was held in Obninsk in Russia in March 2005. It included representatives from Russia, India, Republic of Korea, France and, as an observer, Japan. This meeting finalised the terms of reference and the overall concept of the study.

The joint study, which will continue until early 2007, aims to identify the parameters required for a comprehensive and systematic analysis of INSs including development of the power generation sector up to 2050. The outcome of the joint study will be a report by the participating countries, which will also determine priorities for R&D on INSs based on a closed nuclear fuel cycle with fast reactors.

The Obninsk meeting agreed that, while the innovative systems considered should be looked at on a global level, they should also incorporate all promising national concepts, and in particular:

  • France – gas and sodium-cooled reactor technologies with appropriate fuel cycle technologies.
  • India – sodium-cooled reactor technologies with involvement of thorium fuel and appropriate fuel cycle technologies with a high breeding ratio.
  • South Korea – sodium-cooled reactor technologies with appropriate fuel cycle technologies.
  • Russia – sodium-, lead-, lead-bismuth- and gas-cooled reactor technologies with dry and aqueous reprocessing technologies.
  • Japan – any promising fast reactor technologies with appropriate fuel cycle technologies.
The STC agreed that common computer modelling tools and codes should be used for global INS modelling including DESAE, COSI and MESSAGE codes. Modelling tools to predict energy demands and production and possible national INS systems should be selected by individual members. The STC also proposed setting up international working groups in all INPRO subject areas (economics, safety, environmental protection, waste management, proliferation resistance and infrastructure).

The Obninsk meeting heard many presentations that used INPRO’s assessment methods, and in particular the DESAE codes, to predict global future energy needs. These all showed that without breeding fuel and closing the fuel cycle, nuclear power has no long-term future in face of depleting uranium resources. However, with fast breeders, and especially with a high breeding ratio, nuclear power will be able to supply practically unlimited resources of fuel.

A second joint study STC meeting was held in Vienna in July, attended by representatives of China, France, India, South Korea and the Russian Federation with Japan again as an observer to discuss progress. The STC identified a reference scenario for nuclear energy development on global, regional and national levels and agreed on the structure and parameters of the CNFC-FR INS to be assessed.

Other studies

Various assessments are now underway as part of INPRO’s Phase 1B including the CNFC-FR joint study.

India has proposed an assessment of a hydrogen generating INS as a component of national energy mix for inclusion in INPRO’s Phase IB. It has prepared, and submitted to the IAEA, a common draft of terms of reference of this assessment, for circulation among other member states who could be interested in joining this study in respect of their own national situation. India, for its own assessment, would focus on hydrogen generation adapting a liquid metal (lead-bismuth) cooled high temperature reactor using coated fuel particles.

France’s study on the transition from LWRs to fourth generation fast neutron systems is continuing. France has developed a preliminary scenario to cover its nuclear energy needs during the 21st century. In that scenario the amount of nuclear energy produced currently will be mostly maintained. The shutdown of the existing nuclear plants will be complete by 2050 with 50% of them being be replaced by EPR reactors and the remaining 50% by fast reactors (FRs). The operational lives of the new INSs will be of about 60 years. Late in the century, the EPRs will also be replaced by FRs.

The closed fuel cycle will use low enriched uranium for EPR reactors and MOX fuel for FRs, which will be produced using one or more reprocessing steps. INPRO methodology will be applied to this scenario considering several options including the number of reprocessing steps, the cooling system used in the FRs (helium gas or liquid sodium) or the characteristics of the fuel. The assessment study will be performed in the second half of 2005.

Argentina is performing an assessment of additional nuclear generation capacity in the country for the period 2010-2025 using INPRO methodology. The systems to be evaluated are the Canadian ACR and the domestically-developed CAREM reactor. This study, to be performed from July 2005 to July 2006, comprises three phases:

  • Phase I (July ’05-September ’05). Determination of: the need to introduce additional generating capacity in the Argentinian nuclear system in the period 2010-2025; available and adequate siting; the size of module(s) acceptable to the grid.
  • Phase II (September ’05-June ’06). Application of INPRO methodology to both selected systems.
  • Phase III (April ’06-July ’06). Impact of the project on the industrial and technological infrastructure of the country. Consideration of external factors not considered in Phase I.
Argentina has invited other states to join this study.

Armenia has proposed an assessment for an INS in a country with small energy demands. The study is expected to include a detailed analysis of overall development of energy demand, including electricity, an assessment of the future supply potential of all energy resources, an assessment of the environmental impacts of future electricity generation, and an analysis of the financial requirements. It will identify the R&D and appropriate measures and actions on national and regional levels needed for INS deployment and make recommendations. The study is open to other IAEA members with similar conditions and local and regional requirements.

South Korea is assessing the DUPIC (direct use of the spent PWR fuel in Candu reactors) fuel cycle in the area of proliferation resistance. During the Phase 1B (first part), Korea completed a national case study on DUPIC fuel fabrication. This has now been extended to include to the whole fuel cycle including mining, milling, refining, conversion, enrichment, PWR fuel fabrication, PWR operation, spent PWR fuel handling, DUPIC fuel fabrication, Candu operation, and spent DUPIC fuel handling to final disposal. An initial consultancy meeting was held in April in Vienna. The study will take at least six months and the final consultancy meeting is planned for January 2006 in Vienna.

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Visit the INPRO website on www.iaea.org

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