JEEP II research reactor in Norway (Credit: IFE)The Board of Directors of Norway’s Institute for Energy Technology (IFE) has decided to permanently close its JEEP II research reactor at Kjeller.

IFE said that it will continue to focus on research and development in the fields of energy, digitalisation, nuclear technology and radiopharmaceuticals and that the reactor closure will have "limited impact" on IFE's research.

JEEP II is Norway’s last reactor in operation. It started up in 1967 and has been used by researchers nationally and internationally for research in physics, materials, cancer medicine and renewable energy, as well as nuclear disarmament. The reactor was stopped in December 2018 for scheduled maintenance and control, and IFE received a renewed licence to operate JEEP II for ten more years.

However, in January, corrosion was found on several components that are important for the safety of the reactor. IFE and external experts concluded that repairs would require long-term shutdown of the reactor incurring costs above IFE’s financial capabilities. The reactor is currently shut down with fuel and heavy water removed, and as such does not pose any danger to health, environment or safety. Therefore the reactor will not be restarted, and IFE will begin work to prepare for its decommissioning. IFE cannot count on support from the Norwegian state to cover repairs, and as a self-owned foundation, cannot assume such great financial risk, said chairman Olav Fjell.

IFE is one of Norway’s largest research institutes with international research groups in the fields of energy, health, digitalisation and nuclear technology. The reactor “has contributed to considerable value creation based on research, development of new companies, and the development of cancer drugs” said IFE CEO Nils Morten Huseby. However, there are several options for IFE to continue nuclear research without the reactor, he added. Most of IFE’s research does not depend on the reactor and will continue as before.

Huseby said the total cost of the clean-up efforts would exceed NOK15 billion ($1.7 billion). He does not see any point in building a new reactor. Instead, research infrastructure is to be revamped to avoid the disadvantages of having to run a reactor, he noted. "When it comes to research, we will have to change some of the routines to continue research without the necessity of having access to a reactor. We see more opportunities for this and do not believe the impact on research will be particularly large."

The closure of JEEP II leaves Norway without any research reactors. In June 2018, it was decided that its other research reactor in Halden had to be shut down after 60 years of operation. Norway will enter a period of decommissioning. The Norwegian State established Norwegian Nuclear Decommissioning (NND) as a state agency responsible for nuclear decommissioning in 2018. NND will eventually take over the responsibility for all nuclear facilities and their removal. IFE and NND will work closely to assure a smooth transition and transfer of IFE’s nuclear facilities and expertise to NND.

Photo: The JEEP II research reactor at Kjeller (Credit: IFE)