Opportunities from Halden closure discussed

30 July 2018

The US Department of Energy (DOE) earlier this month organised a two-day workshop to discuss the collaborative opportunities created by the permanent shutdown of the Halden research reactor in Norway. The closure of the reactor - used for testing nuclear fuels and reactor materials - was announced in late-June.

The Halden reactor (Image: IFE)

The Halden reactor - which started up in 1959 - ran at a maximum power of 25 MWt and contained numerous test positions, thus providing flexible test conditions. The project was 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 was financed by the participating countries and was renewed every three years. As the host country, Norway covered about 30% of the programme cost. On 27 June, Norway's Institute for Energy Technology (IFE) announced it would not apply to extend the reactor's operating licence, which expires in 2020, and the reactor, which was offline due to a safety valve failure, would not be restarted. Continued operation of the reactor would not be viable, IFE said.

On 9 and 10 July, DOE organised a Halden Capability Gap Assessment Workshop at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL). The meeting was attended by representatives from DOE, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, INL, nuclear vendors, as well as American and European research agencies and test facilities.

Daniel Iracane, NEA deputy director-general and chief nuclear officer, commented: "For 50 years, the Halden Reactor Project demonstrated the value of international shared fuel and material testing activities."

Reporting on the meeting, Paul Menser for INL Public Affairs & Strategic Initiatives said the participants "agreed that no single facility can replicate what Halden has done". However, he said there was consensus "that many of Halden's capabilities exist or may be replicated elsewhere, and that the situation could create new collaborative opportunities".

Three DOE-sponsored vendor teams - Global Nuclear Fuel, Framatome and Westinghouse - are developing accident-tolerant fuel concepts with the aim of loading test assemblies into US commercial reactors by 2022. All three teams had experiments planned for Halden and must now find suitable new places to conduct them. Lightbridge Corporation - which is developing accident-tolerant fuel without any government funding - has already announced plans to conduct the initial testing and demonstration of its advanced metallic nuclear fuel in the USA.

"We need to assess what vendors have been planning in Halden that we have to find a new home for," said INL's Steve Hayes, national technical director of DOE's Advanced Fuels Campaign. He added, "What we're really looking for are the gaps left by the Halden shutdown. This meeting is about vetting ideas and finding out what's been overlooked."

Some of the planned experiments could be conducted at INL's Advanced Test Reactor, or the BR-2 reactor in Belgium or the High Flux Reactor in the Netherlands. In the USA, facilities are also available at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Menser said it will be up to remaining organisations to divide up the work by first determining what they are best equipped to handle.

Sven van den Berghe of Belgium's Nuclear Research Centre (SCK-CEN), operator of the BR-2 reactor, said, "The nuclear industry will not put all its eggs in one basket again."

Hayes told the meeting that the DOE has requested a preliminary report on alternative testing arrangements by the end of this month, with a more detailed report to be submitted at the end of the year.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News