IAEA considers safety of ageing research reactors

27 April 2017

A group of experts has made recommendations to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on the sustainable and safe operation of research reactors. "Ageing management and effective utilisation are major challenges for operators of research reactors," the IAEA said.

The IAEA's Technical Working Group on Research Reactors (TWGRR) recently held its annual meeting at the agency's headquarters in Vienna.

The TWGRR comprises 20 technical experts, regulars and senior managers from countries with operating research reactors. The aim of the working group is to promote the efficient use of research reactors, critical and sub-critical assemblies, or facilities of a similar nature, and to look at the projected needs for research reactors on a global and regional basis. The group meets once a year to provide advice and recommendations to the IAEA on how to assist countries in optimising the operation of research reactors.

Amgad Shokr, head of the IAEA's Research Reactor Safety Section, said: "Maintaining a high level of safety is essential to ensure effective utilisation of research reactors to maximise their benefits to the society. Member states continue to improve the safety of their research reactors but challenges remain, particularly in relation to regulatory effectiveness and ageing of facilities. Rigorous application of the IAEA safety standards will help address these issues."

"Around half of the operating research reactors are over 40 years old, therefore modernisation of these facilities is an issue of central concern to ensure they can continue to perform in a safe and efficient manner," said Sean O'Kelly, associate lab director of the Advanced Test Reactor Complex at the Idaho National Laboratory and chairman of the TWGRR.

The work of the IAEA's Research Reactor Section ranges from the use of research reactors to infrastructure issues, their operation and maintenance, as well as to the fuel cycle. It helps ensure that research reactors areĀ used as optimally as possible and, for this purpose, provides capacity-building training on the reactors' use for applications in industry, medicine, agriculture and academia. The section also helps build coalitions and networks to support the implementation of larger international projects.

"The IAEA is committed to support those countries that don't have research reactors to gain access to them or to build a domestic one," said Andrea Borio di Tigliole, head of the agency's Research Reactor Section.

The IAEA said it has launched several initiatives to support capacity building of future experts from member states without a research reactor. These include: the International Centre based on Research Reactor scheme, with currently designated centres in Russia and France; the Internet Reactor Laboratory program; and several hands-on training schools conducted at research reactors.

There are 250 operational research reactors in 55 countries worldwide, according to the IAEA. Research reactors are not used to generate power, but are used to produce neutrons to support research, education and training. They are also used in the production of radioisotopes for medicine and industry.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News