It looks like nothing more than a hole in the ground at the moment – but site preparations for Europe's newest research reactor, the Jules Horowitz Reactor (RJH), are nearly complete.
The 100 MWt reactor is being built at Cadarache in southern France. Thousands of cubic metres of dirt and debris have been moved since March 2007 in preparation for the reactor's foundations and first concrete is expected to be poured soon.
RJH is being built under the framework of an international consortium of research institutes from France, the Czech Republic, Spain, Finland, Belgium and the European Commission plus major companies such as Electricité de France (EdF) and Areva. Partners from India and Japan have recently joined the consortium and the door remains open for potential European or international partners. French atomic energy commission the CEA (Commisariat á l'énergie atomique) is funding 50% of the total €500 million ($790 million) construction cost, with the remainder coming from EdF (20%), the research institutes (20%) and Areva (10%). The reactor is due to be commissioned in 2014.
RJH is a materials test reactor. Its primary uses will be research into the performance of nuclear fuel at existing reactors, testing designs for fuel for future reactors, including fusion reactors, and the production of radioisotopes for use in medicine. According to Gilles Bignan, user facility interface manager at RJH, the reactor will be much needed by the time it starts up, as all of Europe's existing material test reactors were built in the 1960s and will be reaching the ends of their lives in the period 2015-2020. "We needed at least one facility to cope with the growing needs of our community," he said.
The modular design will be highly versatile and able to accommodate some 20 simultaneous experiments. Over its anticipated 50-year lifespan it will be used for studies on materials used in the nuclear power reactors of today and tomorrow, as well as testing fuels for current and future reactors. The instrumentation to be used with the reactor will allow hitherto unavailable real-time analysis to be performed. The reactor will also play a vital role in producing radioisotopes for use in nuclear medicine across Europe in coordination with existing NRG production facilities at Petten in the Netherlands.
The CEA's Cadarache site will also be home to the Iter fusion reactor, for which ground is being prepared about 3 kilometers away.