Fuel & fuel cycle

INPRO leaps into action

27 May 2009

Although US domestic research for the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) has been cancelled, nuclear fuel cycle research is continuing within an IAEA programme, which has a new action plan. By Judith Perera

The International Project on Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles (INPRO) has adopted a new action plan for 2010-2011. An initiative of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), INPRO is a forum for discussion and cooperation on the development and deployment of sustainable innovative nuclear energy systems (INS) in the 21st century and beyond.

Over the coming five decades, energy supply scenarios are expected to change, based on increasingly limited fossil fuel supplies and climate change. New applications for nuclear power, such as hydrogen production and seawater desalination are expected to become increasingly important.

INPRO, which spans this period, assesses innovative nuclear systems and technologies, including fuel cycle facilities and reactors. It considers all areas that could impact sustainable development, such as economic competitiveness, environmental aspects, infrastructure, security and physical protection, proliferation resistance, safety and waste management.

Currently 28 countries are members of the project, with another 11 participating at a working level, and others have expressed interest in joining. Recognised international organisations as well as IAEA member states can become members of INPRO provided they make a contribution to the project. Contributions can be in the form of donating extra-budgetary funds, providing cost-free experts, performing assessment studies using the INPRO methodology, or participating in INPRO collaborative projects.

Recently, Russia committed to providing a financial contribution of RUB23 million ($645,000) a year for five years. This provided a new stability to INPRO, which is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions from its members, with only a small amount from the IAEA regular budget.

As of December last year, members of INPRO were Argentina, Armenia, Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Morocco, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Russia, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, the USA and the European Commission (EC).

So far, INPRO methodology has been applied successfully to six national assessment studies in Argentina, Armenia, Brazil, India, South Korea and Ukraine. Joint studies of INS based on a closed fuel cycle and fast reactors have also been completed involving Canada, China, France, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and Ukraine. The results of these studies will be published later this year.

Future collaboration

“We continue to see a growing interest in nuclear power and in many international initiatives,” said Yuri Sokolov, INPRO manager and IAEA deputy director general.

As a result, international collaboration will be key to the future success of the project. “INPRO’s global vision and scenarios of nuclear power development and deployment will have to include analyses and implications of such initiatives, as well as many other technical and institutional innovations,” Sokolov added.

In reality, however, because the project is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions, the scope of the new programme will depend on availability of resources in 2010 and 2011.

Ray Sollychin, who is involved in the project, stressed how INPRO is important for the future of nuclear energy because it will depend on introducing new technologies. “Today new energy users still tend to favour fossil fuels for a number of reasons. The capital costs/kW of nuclear are higher. Although this is offset during operation by low fuel costs, nuclear plants are also much bigger – up to three times the size of a fossil fuel plant. This means initial outlay is much greater,” he said. The lack of skilled workers is also an obstacle. “Many skilled workers are nearing retirement and there will be a 15-year gap before new skilled workers enter the market.” Another drawback is that nuclear is currently only suitable for centralised electricity production, and there are the ongoing concerns about proliferation and public acceptance, he added.

Looking to the near future, the closed fuel cycle, which is vital for long-term nuclear use, is only suitable for established nuclear countries.

Sollychin believes that in the longer term, thorium fuel may be the answer. “But commercial companies will not look at innovative technologies – they will only look ahead 30 or 40 years – so we do need INPRO.” Vendors are now looking at evolutionary development, but this is very costly and affects the whole supply chain. However the commercial constraints of developers mean they are unlikely to spend on innovative designs.

Within INPRO’s four programme areas, the actual development of new technology is not currently being pushed because it is not considered IAEA business. “However, it may be possible to organise such activities outside, but in close co-operation with, the agency,” he suggested.

One possible collaborator could be the International Science and Technology Centre (ISTC) in Moscow. ISTC was founded in 1992 as a result of an international treaty signed by the European Union (EU), Japan, the USA and Russia to give scientists and engineers formerly active in the military-industrial sector in former Soviet states opportunities for employment and international cooperation in the civilian sector. “While its original remit is not longer really relevant, it holds important resources which could be used,” Sollychin added.

INPRO steering committee member Alex Burkart of the US state department said: “The US wants to see INPRO work in close cooperation with other international initiatives such as the Generation IV International Forum (GIF), the Global Nuclear Energy Programme (GNEP) and the European Sustainable Nuclear Energy Platform (SNETP) to ensure a good synergy and avoid duplication of effort among all the initiatives.”

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Twelve collaborative projects

The biggest collaborative project, the Global Architecture of Innovative Nuclear energy Systems, is based on thermal and fast reactors, including closed fuel cycles. It involves 15 countries and two international organisations Argentina, Belgium, Canada, China, the Czech Republic, France, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia, Slovakia, Ukraine, the USA, the European Commission and Italy as an observer, with others that have asked to join.

INPRO's Vladimir Usanov says the focus of GAINS is to draw up a framework for the development of nuclear power strategies. Many countries want to understand the global framework. We are developing a heterogenous model of the world, he explains. The project focuses on three groups of countries: those with a closed fuel cycle, those with regular nuclear programmes and newcomers. It looks at the scenarios and systems that can be used in each group and the next step will be to organise case studies within each group. For instance, Ukraine would like to understand how it can move to fuel fabrication and what it should do in the long term to enhance sustainability features of its nuclear power programme. At present it has nuclear power but no fuel cycle, says Usanov.

2. RMI
The Raw Materials Insufficiency project aims to identify demand trends in energy markets and opportunities to meet those demands with special reference to the role of nuclear energy. Twelve members have expressed interest in the project: Armenia, Belarus, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Lithuania, Russia, Ukraine and the EC (through the Institute for Energy at the Joint Research Centre, Petten, Netherlands).

The objectives of Fuel cycles for Innovative Nuclear systems through INtegration of TEchnologies are to provide an overview of technically-feasible and economically-sound advanced and innovative nuclear fuel and fuel cycle options and identify uncertainties. The Czech Republic, India, Japan and Russia are expected to participate.

4. ThFC
The Thorium Fuel Cycle project will explore possible options. Canada, the EC, India and Slovakia currently participate, and others have confirmed their interest in joining, including China, South Korea and Russia.

The project for performance assessment of Passive GAseous Provisions seeks to propose an internationally-accepted definition for the reliability of thermohydraulic passive systems and provide an assessment methodology. Expected participants (including observers) are Algeria, Belarus, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany and India.

6. HTR H2
The project, on the safety for advanced High Temperature Reactors and combined operation with Hydrogen producing plants, has several goals. It aims to identify safety issues and provide recommendations to mitigate the associated risks, formulate methodologies for safety studies of advanced HTRs and benchmark numerical codes specific to HTR design safety. It will also draw up guidelines for assessing the reliability of passive systems through case studies. The project is at an early stage; a survey will be carried out among potential, interested participants to identify areas of major interest.

The Proliferation Resistance: Acquisition/Diversion pathway Analysis project aims to identify and analyse high-level pathways for the acquisition of weapons usable material, using an INS case study, and will make recommendations for evaluating barriers against proliferation. PRADA grew out of a case study on the DUPIC fuel cycle conducted by South Korea. Participants include Canada, China, South Korea, the USA and the EC.

This project examines the technical challenges of heat removal by liquid metal and molten salt coolants from cores operating at high temperatures. It seeks to engage institutions worldwide in a coordinated effort to investigate the cooling of nuclear reactor cores operating at high temperatures (600-1000C and beyond) with a focus on liquid metals and molten salts. Brazil, the Czech Republic and India participate in the project, and institutions from Germany, Hungary, Italy, Israel, South Korea, Russia, Spain and the USA have expressed interest.

9. AWR
Argentina, Brazil and India are expected to be participants in the Advanced Water-cooled Reactor project. The project will involve experimental and analytical investigations on the steady state and stability performance of single- and two-phase natural circulation reactor systems; experimental and theoretical studies on mixing and stratification in large water pools; investigations on the reliability of passive systems; and studies on various thermohydraulic aspects of annular fuel rods and their thermal margin under normal and oscillatory conditions.

10. DHR
The development and benchmarking of computer codes to analyse the Decay Heat Removal function of liquid metal-cooled reactors is the objective of this project. China, India, South Korea, Russia and the EC (through the Institute for Energy) participate.

This project examines implementation issues for nuclear power use in smaller countries. It aims to review technically-feasible and economically-sound spent fuel management and radioactive waste management options available globally. It will select three to four reference scenarios of nuclear power development options that will be suited to the conditions in small countries. It will also apply relevant INPRO methodology criteria to assess safe and reliable operations of an INS in a country with small grids. Nine countries have expressed interest in participating: Armenia, Argentina, Belarus, Chile, the Czech Republic, France, Russia, the USA and Vietnam. So far, Armenia has been the project's focus.

12. ENV
The objective of this project is environmental impact benchmarking relative to an innovative nuclear system component. It aims to compare codes and methodologies to a shared standard to determine and rank the toxicity of radionuclides based on their impact on humans and biota. Argentina, Armenia, Brazil, the Czech Republic, France, India and Spain are expected to participate.

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