IAEA assesses ageing management at Dutch research reactor

04 July 2022

A team of seven international experts visited the High Flux Reactor (HFR) in Petten, the Netherlands, on behalf of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to examine the way in which operator the Nuclear Research and Consultancy Group (NRG) manages the ageing of its installations.

The High Flux Reactor at Petten (Image: NRG)

The mission - conducted 21-28 June - looked at all the programmes, procedures and projects the HFR uses to keep its mechanical, electrical and civil structures and components in good condition.

The IAEA concluded that NRG has made great strides in recent years in establishing a comprehensive ageing management programme in line with IAEA standards. It encouraged NRG to continue and expand these activities.

The mission found NRG has a "clear commitment and dedication" to safety in general and ageing management in particular. The IAEA said it is pleased with the appointment of an ageing coordinator at the HFR reactor. The way in which major replacement projects are carried out, the implementation of ten-year safety evaluations and the reactor vessel surveillance programme are also mentioned as good practices.

"NRG has achieved a significant progress in the establishment, based on the IAEA safety standards, of a programme and procedures for ageing management and preparation for continued safe operation of the HFR reactor," said mission team leader Amgad Shokr, head of the IAEA's research reactor safety section. "The IAEA team encouraged the continuation of this practice, including in the implementation of the facility's activities that support ageing management such as maintenance, inspection, and periodic safety review. The team also noted good performances in several organisational and technical areas and provided recommendations and suggestions for further improvements."

The team made recommendations for non-physical ageing of components. The IAEA found that a number of components are not yet in the scope of the ageing management programme, and the programme must be expanded in this respect. The programmes for civil structures must be improved and, finally, there are practical recommendations for better monitoring of ageing in areas such as concrete structures, cables and components in storage.

NRG said it is pleased with the IAEA's positive feedback about its ageing programme and said it will follow up the recommendations made.

The 45 MW HFR started operating in September 1960, since when its use has largely been shifted from nuclear materials testing to fundamental research and the production of medical radioisotopes. The reactor - operated by NRG on behalf of the European Union's Joint Research Centre - has for a long time supplied about 60% of Europe's and 30% of the world's use of medical radioactive sources. Some 30,000 patients every day depend on medical isotopes from the Netherlands.

The Dutch government gave its approval in January 2012 for the construction of a replacement for the ageing HFR. The new reactor, known as Pallas, is expected to begin operation around 2024.

NRG has set up an ageing management programme to be able to keep HFR in safe and reliable operation until Pallas enters operation.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News