Sustaining experimental capacities for safety, industry and science

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Advances in fuel and materials technology pave the way for the improved safety, reliability and efficiency of nuclear power plants. The experimental evidence required to realise these benefits must be obtained from tests performed in research facilities that can irradiate samples under a range of conditions. Unfortunately, the global resource of such facilities is in significant decline after the recent closures of research facilities such as the Halden Reactor in Norway.

Over the past three years, the NEA has engaged with nuclear regulators, technical support organisations, research institutes and the industry in order to help member countries in mitigating the experimental gap created by the closure of these research facilities. After extensive discussions within the NEA community, the Agency launched the Framework for Irradiation Experiments (FIDES).

FIDES is a multilateral effort to provide a coordinated platform to conduct vital experiments and share facilities around the world to assure that the tests needed to enable the use of new materials and advanced nuclear fuels, as well as to preserve and strengthen the global experimental capacity to the benefit of a broad community of users from around the world.

An expert roundtable discussion was held on 20 April 2021 to discuss FIDES and the experiments it will support. The panel addressed why research reactors are essential in demonstrating safe, reliable and efficient operation of nuclear plants, as well as in advancing new fuels and materials technologies such as accident-tolerant fuels. The panellists also elaborated on how FIDES can help sustain the world’s experimental capacities and agreed that the framework will be a game changer for international collaboration towards advancing fuels and materials research.

“Very soon after the Halden Reactor shut, the NEA convened discussions with our community to talk about what we can do,” said NEA Director-General William D. Magwood, IV during his opening remarks. “We came upon the idea that perhaps what we should do is to look at all facilities that still exist around the world and bring them together under one umbrella, so that experiments can be conducted in co-ordinated fashion and we could recreate an environment of exchange that existed in the Halden Reactor for so many years.”

FIDES will support the experimental needs of nuclear safety regulators, technical support organisations, research institutions and industry by establishing a global network of research facilities in order to perform high-priority experiments to verify the safety and performance of fuels and materials. It will help preserve the remaining facilities as well as the related experimental know-how for future generations.

The framework, which was formally launched in March 2021, has 27 signatory organisations from 12 member countries – Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Japan, the Netherlands, Russia, Spain, Switzerland and the United States – and the European Commission.

“FIDES is built to help sustain experimental capacities required to strengthen the development of fuels and materials for the benefit of a broad community of users in NEA countries,” noted Tatiana Ivanova, Head of the NEA Division of Nuclear Science. “We hope that it will become a long-lasting and sustainable project and look forward to supporting members of FIDES towards the implementation of the FIDES work programme.”

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