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Advanced Reactors

The IAEA’s Advanced Reactors Information System (ARIS) is a web-accessible database that provides Members States with balanced, comprehensive and up-to-date information about advanced nuclear plant designs and concepts.

Member States, both those considering their first nuclear power plant and those with an existing nuclear power programme, are interested in having ready access to the most up-to-date information about all available nuclear power plant designs, as well as important development trends. ARIS was developed to meet this need. It includes reactors of all sizes and all reactor types, from evolutionary nuclear plant designs for near term deployment, to innovative reactor concepts still under development.

Generation IV Nuclear Reactors

The Generation IV International Forum (GIF) was initiated in 2000 and formally chartered in mid-2001. It is an international collective representing government of 14 countries where nuclear energy is significant now and also seen as vital for the future. Most are committed to joint development of the next generation of nuclear technology. Argentina, Brazil, Canada, France, Japan, South Korea, South Africa, the UK and the USA are the original charter members of GIF. The charter was subsequently signed by Switzerland, Euratom, China, Russia and Australia.

Most of these are party to the 2005 Framework Agreement, which formally commits them to participate in the development of one or more Generation IV systems selected by GIF for further R&D. Argentina, Australia and Brazil did not sign the Framework Agreement, and the UK withdrew from it; accordingly, within GIF, these four are designated as ‘inactive members’. Russia formalized its accession to the Framework Agreement in August 2009 as its tenth member, with Rosatom as implementing agent. In 2011 the 13 members decided to modify and extend the GIF charter indefinitely. (Australia joined as the 14th GIF member in June 2016.) In February 2015 the Framework Agreement was extended for ten years, with Rosatom signing for the extension in June, and Euratom in November 2016.

After some two years’ deliberation and review of about one hundred concepts, GIF (then representing ten countries) late in 2002 announced the selection of six reactor technologies which they believe represent the future shape of nuclear energy. These were selected on the basis of being clean, safe and cost-effective means of meeting increased energy demands on a sustainable basis, while being resistant to diversion of materials for weapons proliferation and secure from terrorist attacks. They are the subject of further development internationally, with expenditure of about $6 billion over 15 years. About 80% of the cost is being met by the USA, Japan and France.

In addition to selecting these six concepts for deployment between 2010 and 2030, the GIF recognised a number of International Near-Term Deployment advanced reactors available before 2015. (see Advanced Reactors paper )

Most of the six systems employ a closed fuel cycle to maximise the resource base and minimise high-level wastes to be sent to a repository. Three of the six are fast neutron reactors (FNR) and one can be built as a fast reactor, one is described as epithermal, and only two operate with slow neutrons like today’s plants. Only one is cooled by light water, two are helium-cooled and the others have lead-bismuth, sodium or fluoride salt coolant. The latter three operate at low pressure, with significant safety advantage. The last has the uranium fuel dissolved in the circulating coolant. Temperatures range from 510°C to 1000°C, compared with less than 330°C for today’s light water reactors, and this means that four of them can be used for thermochemical hydrogen production.

The sizes range from 150 to 1500 MWe (or equivalent thermal) , with the lead-cooled one optionally available as a 50-150 MWe “battery” with long core life (15-20 years without refuelling) as replaceable cassette or entire reactor module. This is designed for distributed generation or desalination.

At least four of the systems have significant operating experience already in most respects of their design, which provides a good basis for further R&D and is likely to mean that they can be in commercial operation well before 2030.

However, it is significant that to address non-proliferation concerns, the fast neutron reactors are not conventional fast breeders, ie they do not have a blanket assembly where plutonium-239 is produced. Instead, plutonium production takes place in the core, where burn-up is high and the proportion of plutonium isotopes other than Pu-239 remains high. In addition, new electrometallurgical reprocessing technologies will enable the fuel to be recycled without separating the plutonium.

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