The new Pallas research reactor, which will replace the High Flux Reactor (HFR) at Petten in the Netherlands, will be designed and constructed by the Ichos consortium comprising Argentinean nuclear technology firm Invap, together with Croonwolter&dros and Mobilis, both part of TBI Holdings of the Netherlands.

The contract agreement was signed on 24 January in The Hague by Pallas Foundation CEO Hermen van der Lugt, Invap CEO Vicente Campenni, Croonwolter&dros director Lennart Koek and Mobilis director Robert jan Feijen. The deal is valued at up to €40m ($50m) for the current preparation phase and "several hundred million" euros for the remaining phases.

Three companies took part in a tender for the Pallas reactor launched by the Netherlands in December 2007 – France’s Areva TA, the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI) and Invap, which was selected as the best in June 2009. However, the authorities then decided to discontinue the project for economic reasons.

It was relaunched in 2015 with a new tender from the Pallas Foundation, which divided the project into two phases: the first phases for engineering, obtaining the construction licence, perfecting the business plan and obtaining finance; and the second for construction of the reactor. The same three companies submitted bids in March 2017, with Invap partnering TBI Holdings.   A request for final offers was issued in November after two rounds of negotiations.

The Pallas project organisation was part of the Nuclear Research and Consultancy Group (NRG) until the end of 2013 when it became part of the Foundation Preparation Pallas reactor. The foundation is responsible for completing the first phase of the project (the design, tendering and licensing procedure) and for attracting funding for the second phase (construction and commissioning). The finance is also in two parts. The publicly-funded phase comprises a €80m loan from the Department of Economic Affairs and Climate, together with the province of Noord-Holland, and covers the selection of the design and construction. However, construction and commissioning are to be financed privately. Pallas said the business case for the new reactor "has been further elaborated and a start has been made on approaching future customers". Discussions are underway with potential investors.

The Pallas reactor will be a "tank-in-pool" design, with a thermal power of around 55MW, and able to deploy its neutron flux more efficiently and effectively than the HFR. The design will be further developed and optimised, over the coming two years before being submitted for approval by the regulator. Design, construction and commissioning will take about ten years, and the reactor will have an expected of at least 40 years.

The 45MW HFR, which began operation in 1960, has shifted from nuclear materials testing to fundamental research and the production of medical radioisotopes. The reactor is operated by  NRG on behalf of the European Union's Joint Research Centre and supplies some 60% of Europe's and 30% of the world's supply of medical radioactive sources.

Photo: An agreement was signed for a new research reactor in the Netherlands ion 24 January