France and Japan to co-operate on fast reactor research

10 December 2019

France’s Framatome and the Commissariat a l'energie atomique et aux energies alternatives (CEA - Atomic & Alternative Energies Commission) on 3 December signed a cooperation agreement in Tokyo with the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA), Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) and Mitsubishi FBR Systems (MFBR). This followed the agreement established in 2014 for the Astrid [Advanced Sodium Technological Reactor for Industrial Demonstration] sodium-cooled fast reactor project, which was effectively cancelled earlier this year.

The new agreement aims to further research on key issues for fast neutron reactor technology. Subjects of interest include severe accidents, thermal-hydraulics and fuel behaviour, justification of material performance and durability, under-sodium inspection and instrumentation. 

The new agreement aims to further research on "high-stake" topics for reactor technology. Areas covered include: severe accidents; thermal-hydraulics and fuel behaviour; justification of material performance and durability; and, under-sodium inspection and instrumentation. 

Astrid was to be the successor to France’s three experimental fast reactors – Rapsodie, Phenix, and Superphenix – all of which have been decommissioned. In 2006 CEA was commissioned by the government to develop two fourth generation fast reactors including  the 600MWe Astrid which, in 2009, was made a high R&D priority because of its potential as an actinide burner. However, in August, CEA dropped development Astrid

Construction of the 22 MWt Rapsodie started in 1962 and it went critical in 1967. At the end of 1967, its power was increased to 24 MWt, and in 1970, after core redesign, to 40 MWt. It operated until 1983. The 233 MWe Phénix was a pool-type liquid-metal fast breeder reactor cooled with liquid sodium. Phénix ran without problems through the 1970s and 1980s, but experienced technical problems in the early 1990s. After 2004, it was used to investigate transmutation of nuclear waste and also generated some electricity, but was closed in 2009. Construction of the1,242 MWe Superphénix began in 1974. It was intended to reprocess fuel from conventional nuclear reactors, while also generating its own power, but cost overruns, delays and public protests delayed grid connection until 1986. It was powered down in 1996 for maintenance, and  court challenges, was never restarted.

Currently only two industrial-grade fast reactors are in operation – the BN-600 and BN-800 at Russia’s Beloyarsk NPP. A few other countries, including China and India, have operational experimental installations with fast-breeder reactors.

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