International Conference on Research Reactors:
For more than 60 years, RRs have been at the forefront of nuclear science and technology. According to the IAEA RR Database (http://nucleus.iaea.org/RRDB/), to date approximately 670 RRs have been built, and some 240 of these facilities, in 55 countries, continue to operate. In the past five years, six new RRs began nominal power operation or reached their “first criticality,” while a further three are presently under construction and many more projects are under discussion in several countries.
The IAEA has promoted and fostered the exchange of scientific and technical information on RRs for many years. An important mechanism for this exchange has been the organizational role the IAEA has undertaken in periodic meetings, seminars, symposia and conferences. In recent years, the IAEA has organized major international conferences every four years on topics of interest to the RR community. The last such meeting was the International Conference on Research Reactors: Safe Management and Effective Utilization in Sydney, Australia, in November 2007.
Significant issues still being faced by the RR community are primarily related to operation, utilization and safety, ageing, decommissioning and waste management. More recent challenges, such as initiatives for new RR facilities, securing isotope production, human resources and infrastructure capacity building, and sustainability of RR programmes are receiving greater attention. In view of continuing interest in these topics and in a wide range of additional issues, it was timely to convene another in the series of international conferences to discuss the issues, report progress and plans, exchange information and foster cooperation within the worldwide research reactor community.
The objective of this conference was to foster the exchange of information on current and new RRs and to provide a forum for reactor users, operators, managers, regulators, designers and suppliers to share experiences, exchange opinions and discuss common challenges, options and strategies. More specifically, the participants were encouraged to examine and prepare papers for the following thematic sessions:
Participation and Programme
The conference attracted a wide spectrum of participants: scientists, designers and operators of RRs, and representatives of decision making organs and regulatory authorities. This combination of scientists, technologists and regulators provided a unique opportunity to discuss various aspects from both the theoretical as well as the technological point of view.
At its opening, the conference was addressed by H. E. Ms Amina Benkhadra, Minister of Energy, Mines, Water and Environment of the Government of Morocco, and by Mr Daud Mohamad, IAEA Deputy Director-General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Applications. Other officials attended the inaugural session from the Government, senior members of the National Centre for Energy, Science and Nuclear Techniques (CNESTEN), academia and the press.
The Minister welcomed the delegates to the Conference as an opportunity to discuss common challenges, options and strategies and to strengthen regional and international cooperation between RR centres. She reviewed some of the recent achievements in Morocco, including successful commissioning of the new 2 MW TRIGA RR; drafting of a new law governing the safety, security and safeguards of nuclear facilities and other radiological activities; and establishing a new, independent and competent safety authority that has been adopted by the government this year and is being discussed by the Parliament. She noted that Morocco has signed the Code of Conduct on the Safety of Research Reactors and is promoting its use and ratified the Additional Protocol to the NPT while moving toward ratifying the Convention on Physical Protection. Morocco is striving to make its nuclear research centre a cooperative regional and international centre of excellence open to scientists from Africa, the Middle East and other regions within a framework of international cooperation with the IAEA and other international partners.
Mr Mohamad noted that this Conference is the largest of the four International Conferences on Research Reactors held to date, reflecting the continuing importance of RRs in the nuclear community. He noted that many Member States look to the IAEA to coordinate the worldwide effort in promoting the safe and sustainable use of RRs, in addition to seeking help in solving specific problems. Through networking, the IAEA helps improve RR utilization rates and safety by arranging for researchers to share facilities, optimizing resources and competencies, effectively applying the IAEA Code of Conduct on the Safety of RRs and Safety Standards and exchanging operating experience. The IAEA has a long history of assistance to Member States in improving their utilization, developing safety standards and disseminating information on good practices for all aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle and in the planning and implementation of decommissioning. Mr Mohamad expressed his thanks to the Government of Morocco for hosting the Conference and to all who worked to organize the Conference and bring it to fruition.
During the six thematic sessions mentioned above and the final panel discussion of the Conference, a broad range of participants from around the world described the current status of RRs and debated the pressing challenges faced in areas such as applications for both research and economic sustainability and facility safety in the aftermath of the Fukushima-Daiichi NPP accident. Through these discussions, participants shared lessons gained from experience, traded best practices in all phases of a lifetime of RRs and fostered cooperation to solve problems and forge international efforts to make RRs a sustainable, viable resource for scientific achievements well into the future. As an intended portrait of the dynamic circumstances within the global community, this forum remains equally valuable to states with more than half a century of RR operation and those considering their first, considering that both groups share formidable issues such as maintaining knowledge and skills, human resources optimization, operational safety, radioisotope production, spent fuel concerns, regulation and decommissioning planning. Additionally, emerging interests, such as the relation of RRs to nuclear power infrastructure and new reactor designs and features were debated in order to anticipate alterations in the role, perception and safe operation of RRs and thus help steer the community’s advancement towards its diverse goals.
The Conference was attended by 181 participants from 42 countries and 2 international organizations, including 111 participants from developing countries, 65 participants from developed countries and 5 participants from the international organizations. In addition, 25 observers participated in the Conference, resulting in 206 attendees all together. This reflects the worldwide interest in RRs issues. 77 Papers were presented in plenary sessions, including opening and closing remarks, along with 40 papers which were presented as posters.
Summaries of the oral presentations delivered at each session can be found in Annex I “Detailed Summaries of Technical Sessions.” To conclude the International Conference, a final panel consisting of the IAEA Conference Secretariat and a group of experts nominated by the Technical Programme Committee discussed major findings and general conclusions from each of the technical sessions and responded to questions submitted by participants during the week of the International Conference. A transcript of this Q&A session is included as Annex II “Record of Questions & Answers Session.” The below text provides these major findings and conclusions relevant to six individual thematic sessions.
Session A: Utilization and Applications
Thirty papers were presented in this session (18 oral and 12 poster presentations). The papers described the present utilization of both new RRs and those that have been in operation for many years, along with their opportunities and challenges for utilization in the future.
1. The Conference notes that many presentations discussed RRs that are very well utilized for a wide variety of applications, including isotope production, beam experiments, neutron activation analysis, material testing and education and training. These well utilized RRs are clearly assets to both the national and international nuclear communities. The Conference encourages the RR community to continue and enhance where possible the programmes that support the well-utilized RRs in maintaining their utilization programmes and support less well-utilized reactors in developing plans for expanding utilization or decommissioning the reactor.
Session B: Operation and Maintenance
Nineteen papers were presented in Session B (14 oral and 5 poster presentations). The topics discussed in the session covered a wide spectrum of Operation and Maintenance (O&M)-related aspects, including O&M experiences, ageing management practices, analysis of core performance, and conversion from HEU to LEU fuel.
6. Management of ageing of facilities and staff continues to be a challenge for the RR community. Several presentations dealt with O&M experience at old reactors, including monitoring of degradation, repair of ageing related defects and refurbishment to extend operating life. The reactors in question provide important capabilities, and replacement reactors are many years in the future. The Conference expects continued support for ageing management efforts in Member States.
Session C: New Research Reactor Projects
Thirteen papers were presented in Session C (10 oral and 3 poster presentations). Nearly all presentations involved multipurpose reactors. The desire to produce 99Mo and support national nuclear power programmes were mentioned as key motivating factors supporting project justification. A key point in several presentations and questions is that, while the March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi NPP accident resulted in project reviews for safety and the impact of severe accidents, the principal deciding factor continues to be the availability of funds.
9. Several new RR projects were reported at the Conference, primarily as replacements for ageing reactors that must be replaced or as the first reactors in ‘newcomer’ states planning a nuclear power programme. The Conference welcomes these new reactor projects and encourages new RRs to proceed employing the IAEA “milestone approach,” with particular attention to ensuring that the appropriate utilization plans and safety infrastructure are in place.
Session D: Safety of Research Reactors
The session on Safety of Research Reactors included 23 oral presentations plus 18 poster presentations on many of the same subjects. Many papers in other sessions also addressed topics relevant to safety.
10. The Conference notes that substantial progress has been made in implementation of the Code of Conduct on the Safety of Research Reactors and in publication of IAEA Safety Standards for RRs. The Conference acknowledged the IAEA’s work to encourage and facilitate implementation of the Code of Conduct and look forward to the publication of the remaining planned Safety Standards, especially the Safety Guide on application of the graded approach. Regional meetings on the Code of Conduct, interfacing with regional safety networks and triennial international meetings were also acknowledged.
Session E: Spent Fuel, Waste and Decommissioning
Five papers were presented in this session on a mixture of different topics due to last minute cancellations.
16. While the conversion of many RRs from HEU to LEU fuel is progressing, the individual experiences of spent and fresh fuel handling and repatriation are highly valuable to the international community. Both the Russian Research Reactor Fuel Return Program (RRRFR) and Foreign Research Reactor Spent Nuclear Fuel Acceptance Program (FRR SNF) were represented during this session, which also detailed programmes for safe spent fuel storage and refurbishment.
Session F: Research Reactor Designers and Providers
This session was planned to provide a forum for commercial designers and providers of research reactors to bring their capabilities and products to the attention of the research reactor operation, regulation and user community represented at the Conference. The session included six presentations, where major RR vendors presented their historical output and latest design research aimed towards supplying reactors that are more profitable, safer and more proliferation resistant to meet the diverse needs of prospective owners and operators.
17. The number of nuclear technology providers continues to grow, yielding a robust portfolio of RR designs. The Conference notes the diverse range of RRs and ancillary facilities offered by RR designers and providers. The new designs benefit from years of operational experience and design evolution. The Conference suggests that new RRs contain a safety-by-design approach and make every effort to maximize the safety and efficiency of their design and consider the lessons learned from the Fukushima Daiichi NPP accident as information becomes available.
Final Panel Session
The final panel session included a summary of each session by the chairpersons. In addition, various panel members responded to written questions raised by delegates. These questions and the panel members’ responses follow in Annex II, attached to these proceedings. At the very end of this session, Mr Deitrich (USA), principal rapporteur of the Conference, presented the major findings and conclusions to the IAEA, also included in the summaries of the individual technical sessions above.
Through dialogue among the presenters, participants and the final panel, many conclusions were formed regarding the status of the world’s research reactors (see above for each individual session). For example, many well utilized reactors exist as models for those seeking new revenue opportunities and research programmes such as education and training for new or expanding nuclear power programmes and the production of radioisotopes to prevent crises in supply. One method to enhance the utilization of RRs within a region has been the formation of regional coalitions and networks currently under IAEA support. The consequences of ageing, degradation and refurbishment at many reactors continues to pose a significant challenge to operation and maintenance, yet collaborative efforts and information sharing, often facilitated through IAEA meetings and workshops, hold a critical promise to improving management programmes and anticipating problems long before they emerge. A wealth of new reactor projects and designs were noted, along with cautious optimism regarding how the IAEA milestones approach and lessons derived from the Fukushima-Daiichi NPP accident will be implemented for proper planning and enhanced safety. Finally, the IAEA Code of Conduct on the Safety of Research Reactors has been broadly and generously received, in addition to innovative methods such as periodic reviews and regional safety networks. Again, research reactor owners, operators and regulators will be mindful to adapt new analytical methods, guidelines and test regimens in the aftermath of the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami.
It was concluded that the Conference provided comprehensive and up to date information on the current status of each subject. An increasing number of participants indicated that this conference series represent a valuable source of information for RR operators, regulatory authorities and numerous users in many Member States. The IAEA demonstrated its role as an international coordinator and promoter of RR issues. Its activities in the coordination and implementation of several difficult tasks were appreciated. A strong requirement to continue these activities was clearly voiced in the closing discussion at the conference.
The Conference was closed by Pablo Adelfang, IAEA Cross Cutting Coordinator for Research Reactors, on behalf of Tero Varjoranta, Director of the Division of Nuclear Fuel Cycle and Waste Technology. Mr Adelfang highlighted the great value of the results of the Conference to enhance the safety and the effective utilization of research reactors worldwide. Mr Adelfang expressed the Agency’s thanks to the Government of the Kingdom of Morocco and to CNESTEN for the excellent organization and success of the Conference. In addition, he expressed appreciation to: All chairpersons, the speakers, poster presenters, panellists and participants; the Technical Program Committee, which was responsible for preparing this rich and technically sound programme as well as participating in the abstract review process and other tasks; the exhibitors; and all the people who helped behind the scenes to make this conference a success. Right after Mr Adelfang declared the conference closed.