Ansaldo Nucleare signs contract for lead-cooled reactor

25 November 2021

As part of the research into lead-cooled reactors, the consortium that unites Ansaldo Nucleare and Reinvent Energy (Romania) has been awarded a contract worth around €20 million ($22.5m) for the design, procurement, installation and commissioning of the Athena experimental plant - a research facility for the development of lead-cooled reactors.

The Advanced Thermo-Hydraulics Experiment for Nuclear Application (Athena) facility will be built at the RATEN-ICN research centre near Pitesti in southern Romania. RATEN (Regia Autonoma Tehnologii pentru Energia Nucleara  - Autonomous Directorate of Nuclear Energy Technologies) reports to the Romanian Energy Ministry.

Athena will include a 2.21MWt pool-type plant that houses 880 tons of liquid lead in a main vessel (3m in diameter by 10m in height). This facility will also house scale components for testing and demonstration of   technology for liquid lead cooled fast spectrum reactors.

The consortium is supported by Enea (Italy) and Srs (Italy) for the conceptual and executive design of the technological part, as well as by Ispe (Romania) and Somet (Romania) respectively for the design of civil works and installation activities. The project involves the construction of an electrical core simulator, a main pump and a heat exchanger very similar to the arrangement of the Advanced Lead-cooled Fast Reactor European Demonstrator (Alfred) system, the first project of a new generation nuclear reactor  conceived and managed by a pan-European community of researchers.

The plant will also be equipped with a water cooling circuit to ensure representative conditions on the secondary side of the heat exchanger. Athena's main scientific objectives concern research and development needs (control of chemistry, lead/water interaction), as well as stationary and transient testing of thermo-hydraulic phenomena that occur during normal operation and accidental conditions of a lead-cooled fast reactor (LFR).

A 300MWt demonstration Alfred unit is being built at ICN's facility in Mioveni, near Pitesti, the site of the fuel manufacturing plant for Romania’s two operating Candu reactors at Cernavoda. Alfred is intended to be the precursor to an industrial demonstration unit of about 300-400MWe. The lead-cooled reactor will employ mixed-oxide fuel and will operate at temperatures of around 550°C. It features passive safety systems. The total cost of the project is put at around €1 billion.

The conceptual design of the Alfred reactor and the integrated project were led by Ansaldo Nucleare under the seventh Euratom framework programme. ENEA performed the core design, technological development and safety analyses through numerical and experimental approaches.

The reactor is being developed through the European Sustainable Nuclear Industrial Initiative (ESNII), which brings together industry and research partners for the development of Generation IV fast reactor technology, as part of the EU's Strategic Energy Technology Plan. ESNII was set up under the Sustainable Nuclear Energy Technology Platform, formed in 2007 and bringing together more than 90 stakeholders involved in nuclear fission.

“The Athena project will bring to light the largest structure in Europe for research on LFR technology,” said Luca Manuelli , CEO of Ansaldo Nucleare, “The experimental results produced will be a key to supporting Alfred's development in Romania and Europe. In line with our New Clear vision, collaboration between research centres and key industrial players will bridge the gap for faster deployment of advanced nuclear technologies with SMR characteristics towards a cleaner, safer and more sustainable role in nuclear energy in European energy transition.”  

Catalin Ducu, general manager of RATEN-ICN, said: "Athena is the first step in a complex technological infrastructure through which the physics and engineering of the next generation of lead-cooled nuclear power plants will be better understood and validated - said - Athena is a first milestone in the ambitious Alfred infrastructure project and represents a great opportunity for the South-Muntenia region, for the development of highly qualified Romanian professionals, as well as for the European research and development programme.”

Marius Gheorghiu , general manager of Reinvent Energy said Romanian industry “is deeply involved in this project, so we are honoured to have this significant contribution”. The project will be carried out over the course of approximately two years, with close collaboration between international and local companies. Athena will be based at the RATEN-ICN research centre, near Pitesti, in the SudMuntenia region of Romania liguria.


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