Belgian nuclear scientists have been given the go-ahead to work towards an advanced new research reactor system with a role in researching the transmutation of wastes.
Approval came yesterday from the cabinet of the federal government for its share of spending on the Multipurpose Hybrid Research Reactor for High-tech Applications (Myrhha).
The reactor would be built by SCK-CEN at its site in Mol in the north of Belgium. The organisation has said it is hoping to start construction in 2015 and begin the first phase of operation in 2023. SCK-CEN said the total budget could be around €1 billion ($1.3 billion) and the project should create about 2000 long-term jobs.
Myhhra would be unique as a sub-critical assembly relying on an accelerator to achieve periods of criticality. It would use a core of low-enriched uranium and would develop 57 MWt, using lead-bismuth as coolant. Later, the accelerator could be removed for separate use and the reactor could become a more conventional fast-neutron irradiation facility.
After separation, the accelerator could carry out fundamental physics research and neutron science, with the reactor used in materials research for fusion reactors as well as the doping of silicon and production of medical and industrial radioisotopes. As a lead-bismuth cooled unit, Myhhra would be particularly suited to research into Generation IV designs based on the same coolant.
SCK-CEN already produces 25% of the world's medical isotopes using the BR2 reactor and Myhhra would "consolidate its key role", said the organisation.
One particular use of Myhhra would be in the research of transmutation. This is when certain radioactive isotopes with long half lives are made to 'catch' a neutron and thereby change into a different isotope that will decay quickly to a stable form with no radioactivity.
Although it would be a very challenging practice, an industrial scale method of transmutation would greatly simplify the permanent geologic disposal of radioactive waste. A European project to explore this has called for the demonstration of accelerator-driven transmutation and Myhhra fits the role.
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News