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Future E.U. Needs in Materials Research Reactors

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The future of material test reactors in Europe

A complete analysis of the current state of Material Test Reactors in Europe led to the call for the immediate construction of at least one new reactor.

Energy

Power production from nuclear energy has clear benefits for the environment, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In order to ensure these environmental benefits as well as a safe operational record, the necessary support infrastructure must be maintained. Material Test Reactors (MTRs) represent an important component of that infrastructure. MTRs are used strictly for research purposes. New fuels can be tested as well as new procedures related to severe accident management (SAM), plant life management (PLIM), plant life extension (PLEX) and so on. Many MTRs exist throughout Europe, but most are reaching the end of their expected lifetime (40-50 years). The renewal of operating licences in some regions may also face added political and environmental pressure. An investigation performed in the framework of the Euratom-sponsored FEUNMARR project brought attention to this worrisome situation. Provided that Europe wants to continue reaping the benefits of nuclear power, it will have to accept the responsibility to guaranteeing continued access to MTRs. MTRs are necessary not only for supporting the current but also future generation reactors (Generation III, III+ and IV). The FEUNMARR consortium strongly recommended proceeding quickly with the design and construction of at least one new MTR over the next decade. Need for additional MTRs can be determined as existing MTRs are shutdown over the next 10-20 years. Certainly such an endeavour will be accompanied by a corresponding cost. However, Europe stands to benefit considerably. For one, it can maintain a leading position in the nuclear energy sector worldwide. The work performed at the MTR will also serve to guide future nuclear policy, both within the Member States and globally. In addition, supplementary research activities can help mitigate the associated costs of constructing a new MTR. Nuclear medicine has advanced rapidly in recent years. It and other fields require high-energy neutron fluxes than can be provided by MTRs.

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