Europe needs the HTR29 September 2000
A network is being set up to develop a European HTR technology.
The potential safety and flexibility of the high temperature reactor (HTR) are well-known. To its supporters, these characteristics make a serious candidate for the future of the nuclear reactor. Its use of refractory coated fuel allows it to retain fission products, even in the most severe conditions. All incident consequences are mitigated by inherent passive features. It will operate with various levels of uranium enrichment, and also offers good conditions for burning plutonium. The high level of heat it produces could open a lot of possibilities for its use in chemical processes and could make it an economical source of primary energy in industry.
In Japan, a prototype HTR went into operation two years ago. In China and South Africa, high temperature reactors are under construction. HTR research also continues in the US, where a collaboration has begun with Russia and other partners on a project entitled GT-MGR, which will study the possibility of using this reactor to burnplutonium stocks. However, there are no research programmes being carried out at a national level in Europe.
In response to this need, a technical network for the HTR, named HTR-TN, has been created to bring together work and knowledge on the subject.
Fifteen partners have signed the network protocol, along with several universities. The partners are: Ansaldo; Belgatom; BNFL; CEA; Empresarios Agrupados; Framatome; IKE the University of Stuttgart; IPM Zittau; IRI the University of Delft; the Julich centre; NNC; NRG nuclear research and consultancy group; the Rossendorf centre; and Siemens. As several of these groups are closely involved in work on existing prototypes, or the South African or US projects, the HTR-TN will have strong connections to international projects.
The first meeting was in April, in the EU facility at Petten in the Netherlands. Some 28 members of these 12 companies attended, with three representatives of the EU’s DG. Six technical task groups were created, to investigate: component technology; system and applications studies; material performance evaluation; safety and licensing; fuel testing; physics and fuel cycle (including waste).
Four proposals for shared-cost actions related to these task groups have now been approved for funding and six others are under advanced discussions. All the related technical work, for example the studies of a test facility for the HTR fuel at the high flux reactor (HFR), has already begun. The projects that have already begun are: •Preparation to irradiate fresh fuel pebbles in HFR to 200,000MWd/tHM.
•Transferring the KUFA facilty for ‘heat up’ experiments, from Julich to the Institute for TransUranium elements at Karlsruhe (ITU).
•Investigating irradiated pebble fuel previously part of the German HTR programme in ITU.
•Organising methodologies to save and restore HTR technologies developed in past programmes. Priority is given to restarting fuel fabrication.
The next HTR-TN meeting will be held in November in Brussels, to mark the status of the actions and progress of each task group. The meeting will be attended by representatives from three more industrial companies and two new Directorate Generals, who have expressed interest in the programme and have been invited as observers.
There have already been several events: •The ‘safety and licensing’ task group has participated in a workshop in Cadarache (France) and to a meeting in Vienna organised by the IAEA (27-29 June).
•The fuel task group is preparing to organise a specialised seminary on HTR fuel, in Paris, in February 2001.
•The HTR-TN will try to organise a technical meeting on the HTR reactors applications and future prospects, in collaboration with all related organisations. This will be held in Petten, in 2002.
Several discussions at international levels have begun on collaboration matters, especially with US teams, who expressed interest in participating in the fuel test. The DoE is developing an initiative to re-establish US nuclear industry leadership in this area.
A series of goals were developed at a recent meeting in Seoul for new nuclear reactors in the form of safety, sustainability, ALARA principles, waste, proliferation, capital risk, and ability to provide heat, hydrogen and water as well as electricity. On all these points, the HTR appears to be a very serious candidate for future development.