Russia’s PIK neutron reactor was brought to power operation at the BP Konstantinov Petersburg Institute of Nuclear Physics (PNPI) in Gatchina (part of the Kurchatov Institute) on 8 February, the Day of Russian Science, the event was attended by Mikhail Kovalchuk, President of the Kurchatov Institute Research Centre, and Alexei Likhachev, General Director of Rosatom State Corporation. President Vladimir Putin attended by video link.

“We are launching a device that, in addition to being a unique installation for carrying out scientific research at an absolutely transcendental level, is also a basic installation for technological breakthroughs, primarily in the field of creating new materials and new technologies in the energy sector, creating fundamentally new drugs and biomedical technologies, in particular, nuclear medicine, of course, agriculture and many other things,” said Kovalchuk.

PIK is a pressurised water reactor, with light water used as a coolant and heavy water as a reflector. Neutron beams escaping from the nuclear reaction zone are removed into special channels of various configurations, each of which is a separate research station. The PIK Research Reactor Complex is one of six projects included by the Russian government in the programme for the creation of megascience-class installations in Russia. PIK differs from similar foreign projects because of its increased neutron fluxes in the reflector, the presence of a neutron trap with a very high flux and the possibility of irradiating materials in the core. Samples of materials can be loaded through the channels into the reactor core for unique research in physics, biology, and chemistry.

The design of the PIK reactor with a compact core and a heavy water reflector was created in the early 1970s and was to become a source of highest intensity neutron beams. It was supported by the Ministry of Medium Machine Building of the USSR and the first stage of construction was completed successfully. The reactor layout scheme proposed for the PIK reactor was so successful that it was later  used in almost all of the world’s beam reactors with a heavy-water reflector.

By 1986, the reactor complex was almost 70% complete, However, after the Chernobyl accident the project was fundamentally revised to upgrade its safety, which took several years until 1991. Modernisation project of PIK involved reconstruction of some of technological systems and structures, installation of additional security systems, and construction of new buildings and structures.

The project then underwent complex non-departmental examinations, which included seven specialist examinations. In 1992, international experts and leaders of research reactors in the USA, Germany, France and other countries confirmed  its compliance with international safety requirements.

However, the subsequent years for the project were very difficult, construction was frozen when PNPI, then subordinate to the Academy of Sciences, lost the support of Minatom. The situation changed for the better when PNPI was included in the pilot project for the creation of the Kurchatov Institute Research Center, and a new impetus was given to construction. After the completion of the construction of start-up complex No 1 in February 2011, the physical start-up of the reactor was carried out at a power of up to 100 watts.

The government then decided to establish an International Centre for Neutron Research (ICNR) in the field of fundamental interactions, nuclear physics, medicine, materials science, nanobiotechnologies at the site of the Kurchatov Institute – PNPI. Some of the experimental stations are being developed jointly with German colleagues.

The commissioning of the PIK research reactor complex will provide a significant increase in Russia's share in the world markets for the provision of high-tech services for the use of neutron and nuclear methods in the development of new materials, products and technologies, including for biomedicine. The new complex will make it possible to carry out large-scale neutron research not only by scientists from Russia, but also from other countries.