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Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors (2016)

Chapter: 2 Research Reactors Currently Using HEU Fuel

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Suggested Citation:"2 Research Reactors Currently Using HEU Fuel." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21818.
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2

Research Reactors Currently Using HEU Fuel

“No threat poses as grave a danger to our security and well-being as the potential use of nuclear weapons and materials by irresponsible states or terrorists,” so warns the 2015 National Security Strategy1 issued by the White House. Indeed, following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the imperative to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons has grown more urgent and essential, as has been recognized by both parties in the executive and legislative branches, as well as internationally.

One of the greatest barriers to implementing acts of nuclear terrorism and proliferation is obtaining enough weapon-usable fissile2 material to make a weapon. Without sufficient plutonium, highly enriched uranium (HEU), or a small number of even harder to acquire isotopes, no bomb can be constructed. HEU, while requiring larger quantities to fabricate a weapon, is easier to work with and can be made to go supercritical with less sophisticated device designs. The threat was noted by former Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Harold Agnew, “For those who say building a nuclear weapon is easy, they are very wrong, but those who

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1National Security Strategy, The White House, 2015, p. 11, and as of June 21, 2015, available at https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/2015_national_security_strategy.pdf.

2 Fissile material is defined by the U.S Nuclear Regulatory Commission as: “A nuclide that is capable of undergoing fission after capturing low-energy thermal (slow) neutrons. Although sometimes used as a synonym for fissionable material, this term has acquired its more-restrictive interpretation with the limitation that the nuclide must be fissionable by thermal neutrons. With that interpretation, the three primary fissile materials are uranium-233, uranium-235, and plutonium-239” (see http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/basic-ref/glossary/fissile-material.html).

Suggested Citation:"2 Research Reactors Currently Using HEU Fuel." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21818.
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say building a crude device is very difficult are even more wrong.”3 Thus, the physical security and removal of HEU are of fundamental importance.

Two broad paths are available for preventing HEU from falling into the hands of would-be terrorists or proliferators. First, the material can be protected with perimeter security, access controls both physical and procedural, accountancy, and personnel and cyber security. Second, use of the material can be minimized or eliminated, with the number of facilities requiring it reduced, and it can be disposed of through downblending to lower enrichment levels.4 The first approach—security—is by definition impermanent and potentially imperfect. The second approach—elimination—is preferred and more effective once it is completed.5

The Reduced Enrichment for Research and Test Reactors (RERTR), Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), and Material Management and Minimization (M3) programs have focused on reducing the threat of nuclear terrorism by securing, converting, removing, and disposing of HEU and other nuclear weapon materials in civilian applications. The goal of the conversion program is to replace HEU with low enriched uranium (LEU) and thus greatly increase the difficulty of making a bomb (perhaps to the point that only states can do it).

Global civilian stocks of HEU total slightly more than 60 tons, while military stocks are 20 times as large (Mian and Glaser, 2015, p. 13). The true measure of merit, however, is the vulnerability of a single quantity of material sufficient to fabricate a nuclear device. HEU in civilian stocks is often less well protected than military stores. In particular, many civilian research reactor facilities are small and less well funded than military installations. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), “deficiencies remain, however, in the legal, administrative, and technical arrangements for controlling and protecting nuclear materials . . . in some countries” (IAEA, 2015, p. 3). Thus, the Department of Energy (DOE) nonproliferation programs such as GTRI and M3 support removing HEU from such facilities.

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3 Quoted in U.S. Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, “Dirty Bombs and Basement Nukes: The Terrorist Nuclear Threat,” S. Hrg. 107-575, 107th Congress, 2nd Session, March 6, 2002 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2002), p. 22. This is also quoted in Bunn et al. (2011).

4 “Downblending” reduces the enrichment level of HEU material by mixing the uranium alloy or compound with material of much lower 235U enrichment (such as depleted uranium).

5 Conversion to LEU fuel does not altogether eliminate the risk of proliferation, because material enriched below 20 percent can still be further enriched if capabilities are available.

Suggested Citation:"2 Research Reactors Currently Using HEU Fuel." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21818.
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FIGURE 2.1 The bare critical mass of an unreflected sphere of uranium as a function of 235U enrichment. Critical mass is an important indicator of the weapon-usability of uranium. It drops sharply as the enrichment level increases. The bare critical mass of W-HEU (greater than 90 percent 235U) is about 50 kg. This amount is sufficient for a gun-type nuclear weapon. Much less material is needed for a nuclear weapon based on the implosion-type design (IAEA, 2001). SOURCE: Created from data within Glaser (2006).

DETERMINATION OF THE 20 PERCENT ENRICHMENT THRESHOLD FOR HEU

The critical mass of uranium, which is an important indicator of its weapon-usability, drops rapidly as the enrichment percent of uranium-235 (235U) increases (see Figure 2.1). Weapon-grade HEU (W-HEU) is generally preferred for weapons applications,6 but all material enriched to 20 percent and above is defined as HEU. This definition of LEU (enrichment below 20 percent but without using the term explicitly) was first introduced by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in 1954 (Brown, 2015). The formal definition of LEU was later also adopted by the IAEA, which classifies LEU as “indirect-use material” that cannot be used for “the manufacture of nuclear explosive devices without transmutation or further enrichment.”7

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6 See, for example, http://ntiindex.org/behind-the-index/how-the-index-works/faqs/.

7 IAEA Safeguards Glossary, p. 33. Available at https://www.iaea.org/sites/default/files/iaea_safeguards_glossary.pdf.

Suggested Citation:"2 Research Reactors Currently Using HEU Fuel." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21818.
×

When the United States began to consider exporting research reactors to foreign countries, and first offered this opportunity at the 1955 Atoms for Peace Conference in Geneva, it also chose 20 percent as the enrichment level for use in the fuel of these reactors.8 At the time, U.S. domestic research reactors were typically fueled with W-HEU; beginning in 1958, however, the United States also began export of HEU for foreign research reactors, effectively “converting” these reactors from LEU to HEU, mainly to improve their performance.

The proliferation (and security) risks directly associated with civilian research reactor fuel fall into two main categories: diversion or theft of weapon-usable HEU, which could be extracted from the fresh (or spent) fuel9 and used for weapon purposes; and production of plutonium, which could be separated from the irradiated fuel of the research reactor. Identifying an enrichment level that balances overall proliferation concerns of both materials was recognized as important in the earliest years of the conversion program (Travelli, 1978, p. 3):

The proliferation resistance of nuclear fuels used in research and test reactors can be considerably improved by reducing their uranium enrichment to a value less than 20 percent, but significantly greater than natural to avoid excessive plutonium production.

The choice of 20 percent as a target enrichment for research reactors is not obvious, because plutonium production within the fuel itself increases as the fuel enrichment decreases, and there is no sharp boundary in Figure 2.1 to determine a threshold for uranium enrichment. For example, a 40-MW natural-uranium-fueled reactor makes about 8 kg of plutonium per year, enough for at least one nuclear weapon, while its (fresh) uranium fuel is of very little concern. At the other extreme, a similar 40-MW reactor fueled with W-HEU makes almost no plutonium (less than 100 g per year), but

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8 At the first Atoms for Peace Conference held in Geneva in 1955, Alvin Weinberg reported that he had “just received information from my country that sample UO2-aluminum 20 percent enriched fuel elements of the type which will be available to foreign countries have now been tested both in the LITR [low-intensity testing reactor] and in the MTR [materials test reactor]” (Session 9A, Vol. II, August 12, 1955, p. 430).

9 The HEU fuel used in research reactors poses different levels of threat. For example, fresh or lightly irradiated HEU fuel poses a greater threat than spent, highly irradiated fuel, because the radioactivity from spent fuel provides an additional barrier to theft or removal and recovery of the enriched uranium requires chemical separation. A good example of research reactor facilities that pose such a risk are critical and subcritical assemblies that store a large amount of lightly irradiated HEU (hundreds to thousands of kilograms).

Suggested Citation:"2 Research Reactors Currently Using HEU Fuel." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21818.
×

requires about 30 kg of fresh HEU fuel per year.10 More detailed analyses confirm that there is indeed a region of intermediate enrichment, where the overall “value” for weapon use of the materials involved in the operation of a research reactor is lowest; an enrichment level of about 20 percent minimizes the attractiveness of both the uranium and the plutonium routes to a weapon. If use of LEU is preferred for reactor conversion, then an enrichment level close to this limit (e.g., 19.75 percent) both optimizes reactor performance and minimizes proliferation risks associated with the fuel.11 It is worth noting that DOE’s scale of material attractiveness for nuclear weapons material assigns a lower “attractiveness level” to material that is less than 50 percent enriched in 235U (compared to material above this threshold).12

In some circumstances, there may be concerns that a proliferator could enrich a batch of LEU research reactor fuel to obtain weapon-grade material, for example, enriching fuel material from 20 percent to 90 percent 235U. A reactor using 20 percent enriched uranium fuel requires about twice as much fuel as a similar reactor using 45 percent enriched uranium. For a potential proliferator, this corresponds to a respective increase in available feedstock for enrichment by a factor of two. About three times more separative work13 is needed to enrich a given amount of fuel from 20 to 90 percent enrichment compared to the separative work needed to enrich one-half that amount of fuel from 45 to 90 percent. In both cases, a proliferator with an existing enrichment capability or access to enrichment capabilities could process the available material in a very short period of time, even in a small (and perhaps undeclared) enrichment plant (Glaser, 2006).

Today, there is a broad consensus internationally that 20 percent enrichment is a sound choice for the ultimate conversion target. A stepwise approach to this target was considered in the early days of the RERTR Program, reducing the fuel enrichment level from 90 percent to an intermediate

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10 The IAEA (2001, p. 23, Table II) defines 25 kg of HEU and 8 kg of plutonium to be “the approximate amount of nuclear material for which the possibility of manufacturing a nuclear explosive device cannot be excluded.”

11 Other technical attributes associated with optimal bomb design are considered in determining the 20 percent factor and can be further explored in Glaser (2006). For example, as the enrichment level drops, not only the critical mass but also the neutron background (dominated by the presence of 238U) increases, which further complicates the use of the material in a gun-assembly device.

12 For more information on DOE attractiveness levels, see p. B-1 of http://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2013/09/f2/DOE-STD-1194-2011_CN2.pdf.

13 Separative work unit, abbreviated as SWU, is the standard measure of the effort required to separate isotopes of uranium (235U and 238U) during an enrichment process in nuclear facilities; 1 SWU is equivalent to 1 kg of separative work. From http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Glossary:Separative_work_unit_(SWU).

Suggested Citation:"2 Research Reactors Currently Using HEU Fuel." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21818.
×

level before finally reaching 20 percent.14 Both the U.S. RERTR Program and the International Nuclear Fuel Cycle Evaluation (INFCE, 1978–1980) considered 45 percent as an interim step toward reactor conversion to 20 percent if an adequate fuel for a direct conversion to 20 percent were not available. For reactors using U.S.-origin HEU fuel, this option was almost never used (the original Forschungsreaktor Munich [FRM] in Germany is one exception), and when high-density silicide fuels became available in the late 1980s, the option was no longer considered necessary or worthwhile, given the (unfortunately overly optimistic) prospect of timely conversion of all HEU-fueled research reactors.

The Soviet Union, too, used W-HEU in its reactors but chose to limit the enrichment level of reactors exported to other countries to 80 percent. In 1980, following the INFCE effort, the Soviet Union quietly established a conversion program (similar to the U.S. RERTR Program) and gradually started converting foreign reactors to 36 percent (Arkhangelsky, 1997). By the late 1980s the Soviet Union also adopted the 20 percent conversion target for Soviet-supplied research reactors but had paused its LEU fuel development (Travelli, 1992; Arkhangelsky, 1997). Currently, Russia uses the below 20 percent LEU enrichment limit for its new generation of icebreakers and floating nuclear power plants.15 Like the United States, however, Russia continues to supply W-HEU to some customers. Additionally, Russia has recently restarted HEU production on a small scale (IPFM, 2013).

U.S. PROGRAMS TO ADDRESS THREAT OF CIVILIAN USE OF HEU

The U.S. effort to convert civilian research reactors using HEU fuel has benefited from sustained bipartisan support over several decades from both the White House and Congress. President George H. W. Bush signed the Nunn-Lugar legislation in 1991, framing nuclear security cooperation with Russia in the post-Soviet era. President Bill Clinton established the nuclear security programmatic agenda, including expanded cooperation with Russia. President George W. Bush focused conversion efforts within the U.S. government when he established the GTRI in 2004 and supported them with significant budget increases. Most recently, President Barack Obama used the Nuclear Security Summits to accelerate conversion and threat material removal efforts and to instill a sense of personal responsibility among heads of state and their governments for the security of fissile

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14 See, for example, extensive analyses of both 20 percent and 45 percent cases in Research Reactor Core Conversion from the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium to the Use of Low Enriched Uranium Fuels Guidebook, IAEA-TECDOC-233, International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna, 1980.

15 See http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Non-Power-Nuclear-Applications/Transport/Nuclear-Powered-Ships/.

Suggested Citation:"2 Research Reactors Currently Using HEU Fuel." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21818.
×

material under their control. This national priority has also been reflected in the large congressional appropriations for the GTRI and M3 programs in recent years.16 This sustained support resulted in a nearly 40-year U.S. effort on research reactor conversion, noted in Chapter 1 (see Figure 1.1).

The scope of the research reactor conversion program has changed over the years. Originally, the RERTR Program included only U.S.-supplied foreign civilian research reactors, with a focus on reducing HEU exports to zero (Travelli, 1978). By the mid-1980s the scope expanded to include U.S. domestic reactors, resulting in a total of 70 in-scope reactors (about 28 domestic reactors [Staples, 2013] and 42 U.S.-supplied foreign reactors).17 As the United States was launching the RERTR Program in 1978, the IAEA in parallel hosted the INFCE.18 The INFCE study found that the “proliferation resistance [of research reactors] can be increased by . . . enrichment reduction preferably to 20 percent or less” (INFCE, 1980, p. 43). As a result of the INFCE study and the concurrent U.S. initiative, several other Western countries joined the conversion effort with independent research and development efforts, including major users of U.S.-origin research reactors such as Japan, France, and Germany.

With the launch of the GTRI Convert Program in 2004, the scope of the conversion effort broadened substantially. Given new concerns about nuclear terrorism, the conversion effort included research reactors using HEU fuel that were neither U.S. nor Russian designed. The Convert Program also placed a stronger focus on U.S. domestic reactors and began to broaden its attention to the conversion of critical assemblies in the United States and elsewhere. Other organizations also developed lists of HEU-fueled research reactors, as discussed below. By 2014 a total of 200 operating HEU-fueled research reactors were considered within the scope of the GTRI Convert Program.19

Between 2004 and 2009, the conversion goals of the GTRI Convert Program expanded (with lengthened completion schedules as shown in

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16 Chris Landers, written communication, dated August 5, 2015, provides budget numbers for the past 5 years.

17 See, for example, Matos (1996) and presentations by A. Travelli on “The RERTR Program: A Status Report” at multiple International Meeting(s) on Reduced Enrichment for Research and Test Reactors: 1989–1993, and James (Jim) Matos, written communication, August 24, 2015.

18 The IAEA has no official policy on HEU minimization, but it strongly and actively supports all HEU minimization activities. The fuel supply for new research reactors is approved by the Board of Governors of the IAEA (under what is called a Project and Supply Agreement). Board of Governors meetings include many Member States (including the United States) who are likely to strongly stand against an approval of any supply of HEU fuel through the IAEA.

19 See, for example, lists supplied by GTRI to the committee in 2014, and within the DOE/NNSA FY 2013 Budget Request (DOE, 2012, p. 465).

Suggested Citation:"2 Research Reactors Currently Using HEU Fuel." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21818.
×

TABLE 2.1 Evolution of Scope and Deadlines to Complete the Conversion of GTRI-Targeted Research Reactors

Year Number of Reactors to Be Converted or Shut Down, Within GTRI Scope Deadline for Conversion Total Number of HEU-Fueled Reactors Worldwidea As Reported in NNSA Budget Justification Documents (fiscal year shown)
2004 Not reported 2013 Not reported FY 2008
2005 105 2014 Not reported FY 2008
2006 106 2014 Not reported FY 2008
2007 129 2018 207 FY 2011
2008 129 2018 207 FY 2011
2009 129 2018 207 FY 2011
2010 200 2020 Not reported FY 2012
2011 200 2020 Not reported FY 2012
2012 200 2025 Not reported FY 2014
2013 200 2030 Not reported FY 2014
2014 200 2035 Not reported FY 2015

a Total number of HEU-fueled reactors worldwide includes some defense reactors.

SOURCE: Data collected from NNSA budget justification documents; fiscal year (FY) shown in table (DOE, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2013a, 2014).

Table 2.1 and Figure 2.2) in the same manner as its scope. Progress in conversions is discussed in Chapter 6.

LIST OF CIVILIAN RESEARCH AND TEST REACTORS THAT OPERATE USING HEU FUEL

An IAEA technical meeting in January 2006 was the first international effort to compile an official list of HEU-fueled research reactors worldwide. The Academies also made an effort to compile a list of HEU-fueled research reactors as part of the 2009 study on Medical Isotope Production Without Highly Enriched Uranium (NRC, 2009). The list identified the total number of reactors by country and by category (operational and conversion status). Among the operating HEU-fueled reactors, the report identified 125 (civilian) reactors in scope and 78 out of scope of the GTRI Convert Program.20 The committee, however, recommended that critical facilities,

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20 The out-of-scope reactors on the list had defense-related missions, unique fuels, special-purpose designs, or were located in countries that did not at the time of the report cooperate fully with the United States on reactor conversion programs (NRC, 2009, p. 154).

Suggested Citation:"2 Research Reactors Currently Using HEU Fuel." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21818.
×

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FIGURE 2.2 The expanding scope of the GTRI reactor conversions (gray columns) and the lengthening time line for conversion completion (orange line) by year reported in budget requests to the U.S. Congress, from 2004 to 2014. In 2005, it was reported that by 2014 all of the 105 reactors on the GTRI list would be converted or shut down. By 2014, the deadline had moved to 2035 and the list had expanded to 200. Note the significant increase in deadline between reporting years 2011 and 2014. SOURCE: Created from data collected from NNSA budget justification documents; fiscal year (FY) shown in Table 2.1 (DOE, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2013a, 2014).

pulsed reactors, and defense-oriented reactors (excluding naval propulsion reactors) “should be investigated to determine if it is feasible to convert them to LEU; if so, they should become in-scope for the [GTRI] program” (NRC, 2009, p. 162).

Task 1 of the charge for the present committee is to provide “a list of civilian research and test reactors that operate using HEU fuel” (emphasis added). As shown in Table 2.1 and the discussion above, the lists of civilian research reactors using HEU fuel have evolved over the years based on changing scope, reactor missions (i.e., civilian, military), and operating status (i.e., operational, decommissioned). To address this task, the com-

Suggested Citation:"2 Research Reactors Currently Using HEU Fuel." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21818.
×

mittee carefully reviewed publicly available information on the status of HEU-fueled research reactors using a range of different sources.21 As part of the effort to identify the civilian reactors operating on HEU fuel, the committee collected information from a wide variety of open sources on additional operating reactors that are considered outside the scope of this study. These are listed in Appendix F for completeness and to allow for cross-comparison with other publicly available lists.

The committee organized a joint IAEA–Academies meeting in July 2015 at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna, Austria, to arrive at an authoritative list of HEU-fueled civilian research and test reactors to address Task 1 and to reconcile the draft list assembled by the committee with the information available to the IAEA, which maintains a Research Reactor Database (RRDB).22 The meeting brought together IAEA experts, committee members, and research reactor experts from across the world. Appendix E contains a meeting synopsis, the list of civilian research reactors currently operating with HEU fuel established by the meeting participants, and a participant list.

The committee carefully reviewed the list produced from this IAEA-Academies meeting and decided to adopt it with the addition of two reactors: the Jules Horowitz Reactor (JHR) in France and the Crystal (also spelled “Kristal”) critical assembly in Belarus. The JHR reactor is under construction and does not yet have fuel on site; hence, it did not meet the criteria for inclusion on the joint IAEA–Academies list (see Appendix E, Table E.1 for the list of criteria). Because it is anticipated to use HEU fuel until a high-density LEU fuel is available,23 this reactor has been added to the committee’s list. The Crystal critical assembly in Belarus operates with an HEU core (Sikorin et al., 2013). As noted in Appendix E, two of the research reactors that had appeared on the meeting’s final list have since shut down with HEU fuel removed: the SLOWPOKE research reactor in Jamaica and the AGN-211-P in Switzerland.24 They do not appear in the lists found in Tables 2.2 or E.1.

Table 2.2 provides a list of 74 civilian research reactors currently using or under construction and planning to use HEU fuel. The committee

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21 For example, the committee used lists supplied by GTRI to the committee in 2015 (Chamberlin, 2015); existing lists from the International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM), the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), and the IAEA research reactor database; and lists reported by researchers at international conferences (Hustveit and Reistad, 2012).

22 See https://nucleus.iaea.org/RRDB/RR/ReactorSearch.aspx.

23 JHR will start up with LEU fuel but will then use HEU fuel so that it can meet operational requirements.

24 See announcements from the NNSA for the Jamaican SLOWPOKE reactor (http://nnsa.energy.gov/mediaroom/pressreleases/nnsa-removes-u.s.-origin-heu-jamaica-makes-carib-bean-heu-free) and the Swiss AGN-211-P (http://nnsa.energy.gov/mediaroom/pressreleases/last-heu-removed-switzerland-under-nnsa-collaboration).

Suggested Citation:"2 Research Reactors Currently Using HEU Fuel." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21818.
×

TABLE 2.2 The 74 Currently Operating Research Reactors Using HEU Fuel, Alphabetical by Country (and by Reactor Name Within Each Country)

  Country Reactor Reactor Type
1 Belarus Crystal/Kristal Critical Assembly
2 Belarus Hyacinth/Giacint Critical Assembly
3 Belarus Yalina B Subcritical Assembly
4 Belgium BR2 Steady State
5 Belgium VENUS Fast Critical Assembly
6 Canada SLOWPOKE AB Steady State
7 Canada SLOWPOKE SK Steady State
8 China CEFR Prototype Fast Power
9 China MNSR-IAE Steady State
10 China MNSR-SZ Steady State
11 China Zero Power Fast Fast Critical Assembly
12 DPRK IRT-DPRK Steady State
13 DPRK IRT-DPRK CA Critical Assembly
14 Francea Jules Horowitz Reactor (JHR) Steady State (under construction)
15 France Masurca Fast Critical Assembly
16 France Minerve Critical Assembly
17 France Neutronographie Phénix Critical Assembly
18 France Orphée Steady State
19 France RHF Steady State
20 Germany FRM-II Steady State
21 Ghana GHARR-1 (MNSR) Steady State
22 Iran ENTC (MNSR) Steady State
23 Israel IRR-1 Steady State
24 Italy TAPIRO Steady State
25 Japan FCA Fast Critical Assembly
26 Japan KUCA (Dry Cores) Critical Assembly
27 Japan KUCA (Wet Core) Critical Assembly
28 Japan UTR Kinki Steady State
29 Kazakhstan IGR Pulsed Reactor
30 Kazakhstan IVG-1M Steady State
31 Kazakhstan WWR-K Steady State
32 Nigeria NIRR-1 (MNSR) Steady State
33 Pakistan PARR-2 (MNSR) Steady State
   
Suggested Citation:"2 Research Reactors Currently Using HEU Fuel." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21818.
×
  Country Reactor Reactor Type
34 Russia AKSAMIT Critical Assembly
35 Russia ASTRA Critical Assembly
36 Russia BARS-4 Pulsed Reactor
37 Russia BARS-6 Pulsed Reactor
38 Russia BFS-1 Fast Critical Assembly
39 Russia BFS-2 Fast Critical Assembly
40 Russia BOR-60 Fast Reactor
41 Russia CA MIR.M1 Critical Assembly
42 Russia DELTA Critical Assembly
43 Russia EFIR-2M Critical Assembly
44 Russia FM PIK Critical Assembly
45 Russia FS-1M Critical Assembly
46 Russia GIDRA Pulsed Reactor
47 Russia IR-8 Steady State
48 Russia IRT-MEPhI Steady State
49 Russia IRT-T Steady State
50 Russia IVV-2M Steady State
51 Russia K-1 Critical Assembly
52 Russia KVANT Critical Assembly
53 Russia MAKET Critical Assembly
54 Russia MIR.M1 Steady State
55 Russia NARCISS-M2 Critical Assembly
56 Russia OR Steady State
57 Russia PIK Steady State
58 Russia RBT-10/2 Steady State
59 Russia RBT-6 Steady State
60 Russia SM-3 Steady State
61 Russia SM-3 CA Critical Assembly
62 Russia ST-1125 Critical Assembly
63 Russia ST-659 Critical Assembly
64 Russia WWR-M Steady State
65 Russia WWR-Ts Steady State
66 Syria SRR-1 (MNSR) Steady State
67 United States ATR Steady State
Suggested Citation:"2 Research Reactors Currently Using HEU Fuel." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21818.
×
  Country Reactor Reactor Type
68 United States ATR-C Critical Assembly
69 United States GE-NTR Steady State
70 United States HFIR Steady State
71 United States MITR-II Steady State
72 United States MURR Steady State
73 United States NBSR Steady State
74 United States TREAT Steady State

a JHR is currently under construction and will use HEU fuel to meet operational requirements until a high-density LEU fuel is available.

SOURCE: Modified from TABLE E.2, “Civilian Reactor Facilities Operating on HEU Fuel, Alphabetical by Country,” developed by participants at the joint IAEA–Academies meeting in Vienna, Austria, July 2015.

included critical facilities and pulsed reactors but excluded defense-oriented reactors specifically because the statement of task directed it to focus on civilian research reactors.

Figures 2.3a and b highlight two distributions of these remaining reactors: Figure 2.3a shows the distribution of reactors by country, and Figure 2.3b shows the approximate annual consumption of HEU by reactor (Figure 2.3b presents an estimation of annual HEU consumption; actual consumption depends on factors including standard [not maximum] operating power). These charts illustrate the countries with the most research reactors (Russia, United States, and France) and the highest-consumption reactors (ATR, HFIR, and MIR.M1). In Figure 2.3b, the top seven reactors consume 80 percent of the total annual civilian HEU for research reactors (these reactors represent 10 percent of the total in Table 2.2). Within this category, three of the top seven are in the United States, three are in Europe, and one is in Russia. Figure 2.3b does not highlight critical assemblies, which have no annual consumption, but may house significant amounts of lightly irradiated HEU fuel, still posing a security and/or proliferation threat.

The list of reactors in Table 2.2 represents a snapshot in time. The status of reactors can change. Besides conversion or shutdown (and decommissioning), some facilities may temporarily shut down, for example, to undergo maintenance or facility upgrades, with the intent of restarting. In addition, the mission of some research reactors can evolve; occasionally, the mission of a reactor shifts from military to civilian applications and vice versa. As a result, it is important to periodically review and update the list. The fluidity of the list reinforces a recommendation of the 2009 Academies

Suggested Citation:"2 Research Reactors Currently Using HEU Fuel." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21818.
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FIGURE 2.3 Distributions of civilian research reactors currently using HEU fuel (a) by country (see Table 2.2) and (b) by approximate HEU annual consumption. Figure 2.3a identifies countries with four or more reactors; 15 countries have three or fewer research reactors currently operating with HEU fuel. In Figure 2.3b, three of the top seven are in the United States (ATR with 120 kg, HFIR with 80 kg, and MURR with 24 kg approximate annual consumption), three are in Europe (RHF/ILL with 55 kg, FRM-II with 38 kg, and BR2 with 29 kg approximate annual consumption), and one is in Russia (MIR.M1 with 62 kg annual consumption). SOURCE: Table 2.2 and Meyer (2006).

study that “DOE-NNSA [National Nuclear Security Administration], in cooperation with IAEA, make an effort to maintain an up-to-date and comprehensive database of the research and test reactors of the world, including large pulse reactors, critical facilities, and reactors with defense-oriented mission”(NRC, 2009, p. 162).

PLANS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH REACTORS

The IAEA research reactor database (RRDB) lists 11 planned research reactors. To the committee’s knowledge, none of these reactors will use HEU fuel (see Table 2.3). The Multi-purpose hYbrid Research Reactor for High-tech Applications (MYRRHA) in Belgium and the multipurpose sodium-cooled fast neutron research reactor (MBIR) in Russia will be fast reactors that use mixed oxide (MOX) fuel.25 The PALLAS reactor in Petten,

_________________________

25 Plutonium can be recovered from spent nuclear fuel via reprocessing. Fuel made from this recovered plutonium is “mixed oxide,” or MOX, fuel. MOX fuel provides a small percentage of the nuclear fuel used in nuclear power reactors today (see http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Nuclear-Fuel-Cycle/Fuel-Recycling/Mixed-Oxide-Fuel-MOX/).

Suggested Citation:"2 Research Reactors Currently Using HEU Fuel." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21818.
×

TABLE 2.3 Planned Civilian Research and Test Reactors

Country Facility Name Type Thermal Power (kW)
Argentina RA-10 POOL 30,000
Belgium MYRRHA FAST 85,000
Brazil RMB POOL 30,000
China TFHR Thorium Pebble Bed EXPERIMENTAL 2,000
China TMSR Thorium Molten Salt EXPERIMENTAL 2,000
Jordan Jordanian Research and Test Reactor (JRTR) POOL 5,000a
Republic of Korea KJRR POOL 15,000
Netherlands PALLAS POOL b
Russia MBIR FAST, POWER 150,000
Saudi Arabia RR-1 POOL 30
Ukraine Multipurpose RR POOL 20,000
United States HT3Rc He COOLED 25,000
Vietnam Multipurpose Research Reactor POOL, IRT 15,000

a The JRTR nominal power will be 5,000 kW(thermal) but is expected to be upgradable to 10,000 kW. See http://www.cab.cnea.gov.ar/igorr2014/images/presentations/17thNovMonday/CondorRoom/2ndBlock/03AymanHAWARI.pdf.

b Thermal power was not specified in the IAEA Research Reactor Database (RRDB).

c The HT3R High-Temperature Teaching and Test Reactor, at the University of Texas has been put on hold: http://www.utpb.edu/research-grants/ht3r.

SOURCE: Modified from IAEA RRDB (accessed August 27, 2015).

Netherlands, will replace the High Flux Reactor (HFR) and will use LEU fuel. Not shown in the list are the JHR under construction in France and the PIK reactor in Russia. As discussed previously in this report, the JHR is expected to start full operations with HEU fuel and plans to convert to LEU once a suitable fuel is available. The PIK reactor in Russia recently began operations at 100 W. Both reactors are included in Table 2.2 (which lists only operational reactors or those under construction that currently use or plan to use HEU fuel).

FINDINGS

Finding 1: Periodic meetings that bring together informed scientists and engineers from countries that employ research reactors are useful for the updating of the civilian HEU-fueled research reactor list.

Suggested Citation:"2 Research Reactors Currently Using HEU Fuel." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21818.
×

Finding 2: Although the committee addressed its Task 1 requirement, which is limited to civilian research and test reactors, it supports the 2009 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine guidance to retain a larger list of reactors using HEU fuel that could potentially be converted to LEU fuel.

Suggested Citation:"2 Research Reactors Currently Using HEU Fuel." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21818.
×
Page 21
Suggested Citation:"2 Research Reactors Currently Using HEU Fuel." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21818.
×
Page 22
Suggested Citation:"2 Research Reactors Currently Using HEU Fuel." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21818.
×
Page 23
Suggested Citation:"2 Research Reactors Currently Using HEU Fuel." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21818.
×
Page 24
Suggested Citation:"2 Research Reactors Currently Using HEU Fuel." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21818.
×
Page 25
Suggested Citation:"2 Research Reactors Currently Using HEU Fuel." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21818.
×
Page 26
Suggested Citation:"2 Research Reactors Currently Using HEU Fuel." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21818.
×
Page 27
Suggested Citation:"2 Research Reactors Currently Using HEU Fuel." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21818.
×
Page 28
Suggested Citation:"2 Research Reactors Currently Using HEU Fuel." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21818.
×
Page 29
Suggested Citation:"2 Research Reactors Currently Using HEU Fuel." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21818.
×
Page 30
Suggested Citation:"2 Research Reactors Currently Using HEU Fuel." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21818.
×
Page 31
Suggested Citation:"2 Research Reactors Currently Using HEU Fuel." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21818.
×
Page 32
Suggested Citation:"2 Research Reactors Currently Using HEU Fuel." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21818.
×
Page 33
Suggested Citation:"2 Research Reactors Currently Using HEU Fuel." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21818.
×
Page 34
Suggested Citation:"2 Research Reactors Currently Using HEU Fuel." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21818.
×
Page 35
Suggested Citation:"2 Research Reactors Currently Using HEU Fuel." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2016. Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21818.
×
Page 36
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The continued presence of highly enriched uranium (HEU) in civilian installations such as research reactors poses a threat to national and international security. Minimization, and ultimately elimination, of HEU in civilian research reactors worldwide has been a goal of U.S. policy and programs since 1978. Today, 74 civilian research reactors around the world, including 8 in the United States, use or are planning to use HEU fuel. Since the last National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report on this topic in 2009, 28 reactors have been either shut down or converted from HEU to low enriched uranium fuel. Despite this progress, the large number of remaining HEU-fueled reactors demonstrates that an HEU minimization program continues to be needed on a worldwide scale. Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors assesses the status of and progress toward eliminating the worldwide use of HEU fuel in civilian research and test reactors.

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