Civil works at the new FRM2 reactor at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), are almost complete, and mechanical works are nearly two-thirds complete, reports the University. FRM2 will replace TUM’s current reactor – known, because of the shape of its containment, as the nuclear egg – which is now 42 years old.

FRM2 has been designed to provide a high-quality source of neutrons for research and medical purposes. It is fuelled by highly-enriched uranium. HEU-fuelled reactors have fallen out of favour recently and the German government responded to criticism by commissioning a report on whether FRM2 could be fuelled using low-enriched uranium. TUM spokesman Gert van Hessel said that if the LEU-fuelled reactor could offer the same scientific opportunities as the current design the fuel could be changed. However, he said, designing and testing an LEU regime would take several years, and once a design was in place legal and regulatory approval would be required; this might taken ten years and would no doubt be delayed by opponents.

In the meantime, van Hessel says, the legal agreements to start-up of the reactor in its present configuration are being granted. The moderator tank and pool are in place, and have successfully passed the leak testing process. Commissioning will begin in January 2001; as with construction, this phase will be run by co-designer and turnkey contractor Siemens. Loading of the first HEU fuel is planned towards the end of 2001.