Russian State Development Corporation VEB.RF and Gazprombank will finance construction of the MBIR multipurpose fast neutron research reactor being built in at the Russian Institute of Atomic Reactors (NIIAR) in Dimitrovgrad to the tune of RUB80 billion ($1.27bn), Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev told a meeting of the VEB.RF supervisory board on 13 December.

He said MBIR is being developed together with foreign partners including investors from France, China, the Czech Republic, South Korea, and the USA.

"The new reactor will be used for various research tasks in the creation, testing of new materials and the development of nuclear technologies," Medvedev explained.

MBIR, a 150MWt, multi-loop sodium-cooled fast research reactor, has been under construction at NIIAR since September 2015. Equipment production started in 2016. MBIR was originally scheduled for completion in 2020. However, the schedule has shifted and, according to NIIAR’s annual report for 2018, the commissioning of the reactor for commercial operation is now scheduled for 2025.

MBIR will have a design life of up to 50 years will use vibro-packed mixed-oxide fuel. VMOX is a Russian variant of mox fuel in which blended uranium-plutonium oxide powders and fresh uranium-oxide powder are loaded directly into the cladding tube of the fuel assembly instead of first being manufactured into pellets. NIIAR intends to set up on-site closed fuel cycle facilities for MBIR, using pyrochemical reprocessing it has developed at pilot scale.

MBIR will be used for materials testing for Generation IV fast neutron reactors. It will be capable of testing lead, lead-bismuth and gas coolants.

NIIAR intends to set up on-site closed fuel cycle facilities to support research work, using pyrochemical reprocessing it has developed at pilot scale.

MBIR is intended to replace the BOR-60 experimental fast reactor that has been in operation at NIIAR since 1969 and is widely used by the international community.

The project is open to foreign collaboration, in connection with the International Atomic Energy Agency's International Project on Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles. Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom and the V4G4 Centre of Excellence (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) in June signed a memorandum for participation in the International Research Centre (IRC), which will be based around MBIR.

IRC will coordinate the distribution of reactor resources among users. It will provide a platform for collaborative research undertaken by several participants, and aims to become a World Centre of Excellence on Fast Breeders.

As well as the agreement with V4G4, the IRC has signed agreements with the Czech Republic, South Korea, South Africa and the USA. It is also consulting with organisations in Kazakhstan, France, China and Japan.

In August Atommash (part of Rosatom's engineering division – Atomenergomash) completed hydraulic tests at MBIR. “Hydrotesting is a standard operation for us. But MBIR is a thin-walled product, the thickness of the metal is 12 times less than the usual VVER-type reactor for Atommash. And working with such a thin metal is much more difficult,” said Rovshan Abbasov, director of the Volgodonsk branch of AEM technology. The MBIR casing is 25-50mm, while that of a VVER-1200 reactor is 300mm. The reactor vessel is now undergoing vacuum tests and pneumatic tests of the control assembly.

Photo: Artists impression of MBIR reactor (Credit Rosatom)