Nuclear Science and Engineering / Volume 161 / Number 2 / February 2009 / Pages 160-187
In 1967, the Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique (French Atomic Energy Agency) performed its first research on criticality accidents for the purpose of limiting their impact on people, the environment, and nuclear facilities themselves. A criticality accident is accompanied by intense neutron and gamma emissions and release of radioactive fission products - gases and aerosols - generating risk of irradiation and contamination. This work has supplemented earlier work in criticality safety, which concentrated on critical mass measurements and computations. Understanding of the consequences of criticality accidents was limited. Emergency planning was hampered by lack of data. Information became available from pulsed reactor experiments, but the experiments were restricted to the established reactor configurations. The objectives of research performed at the Valduc criticality laboratory, mainly on aqueous fissile media, using the CRAC and SILENE facilities, by multidisciplinary teams of physicists, dosimetry specialists, and radiobiologists, were to model criticality accident physics, estimate irradiation risks and radioactive releases, detect excursions, and organize emergency response. The results of the Valduc experiments have contributed toward improved understanding of criticality accident phenomenology and better evaluation of the risks associated with such accidents.