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Future E.U. Needs in Materials Research Reactors


The European Atomic Energy Community agreed a project in the frame of the 5th FP, named FEUNMARR, with the French Commissariat à l�Energie Atomique to investigate the future EU needs for Material Test Reactors (MTRs). Discussions among the FEUNMARR project members pointed out the following main outcome: There will be a need for MTR experimental capabilities as long as nuclear power retains a significant share in the mix of energy production sources. Considering that the nuclear option will continue to be available at least for the next several decades, it is important that the technical infrastructure and support provided by MTRs remains accessible on the long term. For current generation reactors, MTRs represent an invaluable resource to assess new materials, to explore modified operational conditions and to address design basis safety and unanticipated operational issues that can develop. History shows that the latter are not uncommon even for mature systems. Another area of interest relates to plant life extension. For new generation reactors, MTRs will be needed both for on-going support to evolutionary designs (Generation III and III+) and for more fundamental assessments of more innovative designs (Generation IV). MTRs will have a central function for specific issues and qualification process imposed by these designs. Moreover, MTRs will be used also for nuclear fusion and spallation reactor technology. Some of these future systems will require high-energy neutron flux. Recent years have also seen the growth in nuclear medicine and allied medical applications, and silicon neutron doping, all requiring a source of neutrons. This area should be considered as a very important complement to MTR test activities for the nuclear power industry. Materials test reactors should form the basis for an infrastructure aimed at producing expertise and retaining competence in nuclear science and technology, where international exchange of experience is a key factor. Such an infrastructure may also be part of the technical basis for the decision-making process on nuclear energy matters in Europe. European MTRs are ageing and measures should be put into effect to secure a reasonable degree of continuity for when the existing European MTRs will cease to be in service. While it is difficult to provide firm timetables on developments that will take place in several years and that will depend on a variety of conditions, the FEUNMARR project members believe that at least one new European MTR should be in operation in about a decade from now. Considering the time needed for constructing and achieving steady operational conditions, the above conclusions mean that a decision in principle on the construction of a new MTR facility must be taken in the very near future. A new MTR facility should be seen in the context of the overall European research infrastructure and it is in this sense that the EU can provide the vision and depth needed for such an initiative to be a success.