Spain’s Empresarios Agrupados and Belgium’s Tractebel on 5 November signed a €7.6 million ($8.4 million) contract to design buildings and utilities for the Myrhha accelerator-driven research reactor at the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre (SCK-CEN) site in Mol, Belgium.

The contract was signed during the Myrhha World Days conference which attracted 220 policymakers, scientists and investors from 23 countries, including Nobel Prize winner Carlo Rubbia, on whose technology the Myrrha project is based.
In 1993, former CERN director Rubbia developed the idea of the ‘Energy amplifier’: a nuclear reactor which produces electricity and burns almost all of its own radioactive waste as well as waste from other reactors. The reactor’s lead-bismuth-cooled core does not have enough fissile material to spontaneously maintain a chain reaction.  Rubbia, therefore, coupled it with a particle accelerator, which shoots protons into a target to produce neutrons that will keep the fission reactions in the reactor. Work on Accelerator Driven Systems (ADS) has continued ever since.
The research into ADS was given a substantial boost in 2018 when the Belgian government decided to build Myrrha (Multi-purpose hYbrid Research Reactor for High-tech Applications), a subcritical lead-bismuth cooled reactor driven by a particle accelerator. “Myrrha is the world’s first prototype of a high-power ADS research reactor,” said Director-General Eric van Walle. “We are in fact realising, on a semi-industrial scale, the theories to which Rubbia has made a great contribution.”
The main building is a tunnel that will house the first part of the accelerator and will be 150 metres long, 7.5 metres wide with a height of 3.5 metres. “Accelerator driven systems, of which Myrrha is the front runner, pave the way to new applications,” explained Hamid Aït Abderrahim, Deputy Director-General of SCK-CEN and Director of the Myrrha project. “Myrrha will contribute to developing new radioisotopes for innovative cancer treatments. Thanks to Myrrha, we are also developing the technology to drastically reduce the volume and radiotoxicity of high-level radioactive waste through the process of transmutation. We are therefore investigating a solution to optimise geological disposal.”
Myrrha is supported by the Belgian government and its value added is estimated at approximately €7 billion. “The project will also create jobs”, points out Hamid Aït Abderrahim. “At the moment, our team comprises 135 people but on average some 700 people will work on Myrrha every year, both during the construction phase and the operation of the infrastructure. In 2015, Myrrha was included in the list of the European Commission Investment Plan (known as the Juncker Plan).” Preparations for construction are already in full swing. The goal is to commission Minerva – phase 1 of the Myrrha project – in 2027 and to start with the development of innovative medical radioisotopes.

More about the Myrrha design: see Myrrha accelerates towards reality (2014)

Photo: How Myrrha might look (Photo copyright SCK.CEN)