Halden Reactor to be decommissioned

28 June 2018

The board of directors of Norway's Institute for Energy Technology (IFE) has decided to close the Halden Reactor permanently and to start its decommissioning. The board will not apply to extend its operating licence, which expires in 2020, and the reactor, which is currently shut down due to a safety valve failure, will not be restarted.

The Halden reactor (Image: IFE)

Meanwhile, Lightbridge Corporation has announced plans to conduct the initial testing and demonstration of its advanced metallic nuclear fuel in the USA, "in lieu of the Halden Reactor", at sites it will announce before the early part of next year.

The Halden project is a joint undertaking of national organisations in 19 countries sponsoring a jointly financed programme under the auspices of the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA). The programme is financed by the participating countries and is renewed every three years. As the host country, Norway covers about 30% of the programme cost.

"In conjunction with the licence renewal process for the Halden Reactor, IFE has over the last year carried out a strategic review of reactor operations, including a financial and operational risk assessment. Based on this review, IFE's Board concluded that operation of the reactor beyond the current licence period is not viable, as this would imply business risks in excess of what IFE is capable of handling on its own," IFE said.

Over the past seven years, IFE has lost more than EUR18 million on its nuclear operation and has this year relied on extraordinary funding from the Norwegian government. As a self-owning foundation, IFE said it is not able to manage the financial risk of operating the reactor.

The board's decision, which was taken against the votes of employee representatives, will not affect IFE's other activities as one of Norway's leading research institutes. Of its 650 employees, 130 employees work in relation to the Halden reactor, but IFE says it is not planning any redundancies in connection with its closure.

"The Halden Reactor is by many countries regarded as a strategic asset for testing fuel and reactor components, vital to improve nuclear safety," IFE said. "Research activities have been carried out since 1958 under the framework of the Halden Project, under the auspice of OECD/NEA."

IFE and the Norwegian state remain "strongly committed" to the Halden Project even though reactor operations will be discontinued, it said, and will work to develop a revised research programme.

Lightbridge reaffirmed plans to start testing its fuel in a US research reactor by 2020, as well as deploy a lead test rod in a US commercial reactor by 2021.

Seth Grae, the company's president and CEO, said: "While we may conduct tests at sites in Europe or other countries with suitable test facilities, we are extremely pleased with the strong and growing support in the US at both the commercial and governmental levels. We look forward to announcing formal arrangements for irradiation testing of our fuel samples in a US research reactor and our lead test rod programme with a US nuclear utility later this year or early next year."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News