IAEA confirms Iran working on uranium metal for reactor fuel

Iran has started work on uranium metal-based fuel for a research reactor, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog and Tehran said on Wednesday. Kazem Gharib Abadi, Iran’s representative at the International Atomic Energy Agency, confirmed that the country has started working on the fuel, saying that everything has been reported to the agency.

Iran's action is the latest breach of its nuclear deal with six significant powers as it presses for a lifting of U.S. sanctions.

The year in review 2020: Research and Applications

Here is a look back at the top stories of 2020 from our Research and Applications section in Newswire and Nuclear News magazine. Remember to check back to Newswire soon for more top stories from 2020.

Research and Applications section

Report finds uranium resources sufficient for foreseeable future

Adequate uranium resources exist to support the long-term, sustainable use of nuclear energy for low-carbon electricity generation, as well as for other applications, including hydrogen production. That assessment is contained in the latest (28th) edition of Uranium—Resources, Production and Demand, a global, biennial reference prepared jointly by the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The publication adds, however, that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and recent reductions in uranium production and exploration could affect available supplies, suggesting that timely investment in innovative mining and processing techniques would help assure that uranium resources are brought to market when needed.

IAEA, IEA partner to enhance nuclear’s role in clean energy transition

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi signs a memorandum of understanding with the International Energy Agency during an online event. Photo: IAEA

To help speed the transition to clean energy that many experts say will be required to achieve global climate goals by mid-century, the International Atomic Energy Agency and International Energy Agency (IEA) have agreed to strengthen cooperation on activities involving nuclear power.

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi and IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol on November 30 signed a memorandum of understanding, under which the two organizations will share data, statistics, energy modeling tools, policy analysis, and research, according to the IAEA on December 3. The agencies will also collaborate on publications, seminars, workshops, and webinars and increase participation in each other’s conferences and meetings of mutual interest.

IAEA awards fellowships to 100 female students in nuclear

The International Atomic Energy Agency has awarded fellowships to the first group of 100 female students from around the world under a new initiative to help close the gender gap in nuclear science and technology.

The Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship Program, named after the pioneering physicist, was launched by IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi in March to support women pursuing nuclear-related careers.

Finland’s Onkalo repository a “game changer,” says IAEA’s Grossi

Onkalo, Finland’s deep geologic repository for spent nuclear fuel, has been characterized as a game changer for the long-term sustainability of nuclear energy by Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“Finland has had the determination to move forward with the project and to bring it to fruition,” Grossi said during a November 26 visit to Olkiluoto, Finland, where the repository is under construction. “Waste management has always been at the center of many debates about nuclear energy and the sustainability of nuclear activity around the world. Everybody knew of the idea of a geological repository for high-level radioactive nuclear waste, but Finland did it.”

Posiva Oy, the Finnish company tasked with researching and creating a method for the permanent disposal of spent fuel from Finland’s Olkiluoto and Loviisa nuclear power plants, obtained a license to construct the Onkalo repository in 2015, marking the first time that a construction license for a geological disposal facility was issued anywhere in the world. The site near the Olkiluoto plant was chosen following several years of screening a number of potential sites.

Pb-210 used to track growing sedimentation in the Caribbean Sea

The IAEA is supporting countries surrounding the Caribbean Sea, facilitating their efforts to monitor and analyze the scale of sedimentation in the region. Photo: Tim Gregoire

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, between 750,000 and 1 million metric tons of sediments are discharged into the Caribbean Sea each year. The release of sedimentation into the world’s oceans, increasingly from human activities, degrades marine environments and jeopardizes regional fishing industries.

The IAEA is supporting Latin American and Caribbean countries in monitoring and analyzing the scope and scale of sedimentation in the region by providing training on the use of the lead radioisotope Pb-210 in the sampling, monitoring, and study of growing sedimentation in the Caribbean and its effects on marine life. That training has culminated in the publication of a study in the November 2020 issue of the Journal of Environmental Radioactivity, the agency announced on November 5.

New NNSA website helps in nuclear safeguards reporting

The National Nuclear Security Administration has launched RAINS—the Reporting Assistant for International Nuclear Safeguards website—intended to assist users with the requirements surrounding international nuclear safeguards.

Nuclear safeguards are designed to verify that all nuclear material declared by a nation-state is not diverted for non-peaceful uses; detect any misuse of declared facilities or locations outside facilities; and detect any undeclared nuclear material or activities in the nation-state.

Belarus’s first nuclear reactor connects to grid

The Belarusian nuclear power plant. Photo: Rosatom

Belarus on November 3 became the latest nation to begin generating electricity with nuclear energy when Unit 1 of the Belarusian nuclear plant was connected to the country’s power grid.

The Belarusian construction project, located in the Grodno region of Belarus, features twin 1,109-MWe pressurized water reactors, supplied by Rosatom, Russia’s state-owned nuclear energy corporation. The units are VVER-1200 Generation III+ designs, model AES 2006. Just last week, a VVER-1200 was connected to the Russian grid at the Leningrad plant.

The start-up program for Unit 1 began on August 7, when the first fuel assembly with fresh nuclear fuel was loaded into the reactor, according to a Rosatom press release. The reactor achieved first criticality on October 11.

Once fully completed, the plant is expected to supply approximately 18 billion kWh of low-carbon electricity to the Belarus national grid every year, Rosatom said.

IAE, IAEA warn that climate challenge would be much harder without nuclear

Birol

Grossi

“Given the scale and urgency of the climate challenge, we do not have the luxury of excluding nuclear from the tools at our disposal,” the leaders of the International Energy Agency and the International Atomic Energy Agency wrote in an op-ed article posted on the CNN website last Friday.

Fatih Birol, executive director of the IAE, and Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the IAEA, said that the COVID-19 crisis not only delivered an unprecedented shock to the world economy, it also underscored the scale of the climate challenge the world faces: Even in the current deep recession, global carbon emissions remain unsustainable.

Security equipment repository for Asia-Pacific region established

During a virtual meeting between the Atomic Energy Licensing Board of Malaysia, Japan’s Permanent Mission in Vienna, and the IAEA’s Department of Nuclear Safety and Security, an agreement was signed to establish a pool of nuclear security equipment, including items pictured here, in Malaysia. Photo: I. Pletukhina/IAEA

The International Atomic Energy Agency has joined with Malaysia’s Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) to establish a pool of radiation detection equipment available for loan to support nuclear security training and detection capabilities in the Asia-Pacific region, the IAEA announced October 7

This is the first such repository facilitated by the IAEA. The equipment was purchased with Japan’s contribution to the IAEA Nuclear Security Fund.

Two African nations join safety and security treaties at IAEA conference

IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi and Teodolinda Coelho, Angola’s ambassador. Photo: IAEA


Grossi and Roger Albéric Kacou, Côte d’Ivoire’s ambassador. Photo: IAEA

Angola and Côte d’Ivoire deposited legal instruments with the International Atomic Energy Agency earlier this week, expressing their consent to be bound by treaties designed to strengthen nuclear safety and security.

On the sidelines of the IAEA’s 64th General Conference, Angola joined the Convention on Nuclear Safety and the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM), as well as the latter’s 2005 amendment, while Côte d’Ivoire joined the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident and the Convention on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency.

Representing Angola and Côte d’Ivoire at the September 21 event were their respective ambassadors to Austria: Teodolinda Coelho and Roger Albéric Kacou.

NNSA assists in removal of HEU from Kazakhstan

The last remaining batch of unirradiated high-enriched uranium in Kazakhstan has been eliminated, the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration has announced.

The action fulfills a pledge made by the United States and Kazakh governments one year ago at the 2019 International Atomic Energy Agency’s General Conference, according to a September 22 NNSA news release.

U.S. reactor technologies to be featured at IAEA conference

A virtual side event at the 64th General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency will spotlight U.S. reactor technologies. The free event, US Reactor Technologies: Flexible Energy Security for Real-World Challenges, will be held this Thursday, September 24, from 9:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. (EDT).

The event will highlight the capabilities of small modular reactors and other innovative reactors for addressing countries’ current needs. It will also examine anticipated challenges in the future, as well as underscore the need to act now.

The event is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy. Advanced registration is required.

IAEA kicks off annual meeting in Vienna

IAEA General Director Rafael Mariano Grossi speaks to socially distanced attendees at the agency’s 64th General Conference plenary session on September 21. Photo: D. Calma/IAEA

With special precautions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the International Atomic Energy Agency commenced its week-long 64th General Conference yesterday with a plenary session that included remarks from Rafael Mariano Grossi, the agency’s director general.

“The latest IAEA annual projections show that nuclear power will continue to play a key role in the world’s low-carbon energy mix, with global nuclear electrical capacity seen nearly doubling by 2050 in our high-case scenario,” Grossi said, referring to a recently released agency report. “Climate change mitigation remains a key potential driver for maintaining and expanding the use of nuclear power.”

The IAEA conference runs through September 25.

Aging management at Ringhals-3 has improved

A team of experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency have completed a review of the long-term operational safety of Unit 3 at Sweden’s Ringhals nuclear power plant, noting substantial improvements from a previous agency visit in 2018.

The review, which had been requested by the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM), the Nordic nation’s nuclear regulator, wrapped up September 18.

According to the IAEA, the Safety Aspects of Long Term Operation (SALTO) team focused on aspects essential to the safe long-term operation (LTO) of Unit 3—a 1,062-MWe three-loop pressurized water reactor that entered commercial operation in September 1981. (Ringhals houses two additional operating reactors: Unit 1, an 881-MWe boiling water reactor that began operation in January 1976, and Unit 4, an 1,102-MWe PWR that started up in November 1983. Another unit, Ringhals-2, was permanently shut down at the end of last year.)

The original design lifetime of Unit 3 will expire next year, but Vattenfall AB, the plant operator, is planning to extend operation for a total operational lifetime of 60 years.

IAEA: Nuclear to continue to play key role in low-carbon energy production

The International Atomic Energy Agency has just released its latest projections for energy, electricity, and nuclear power trends over the next 30 years. Compared with the previous year, the new projections are largely unchanged.

In the report's high-case scenario, the IAEA expects a rise in global nuclear electrical generating capacity of 82 percent, to 715 gigawatts. In the low-case scenario, that capacity is expected to drop 7 percent, to 363 gigawatts.

The report is titled Energy, Electricity and Nuclear Power Estimates for the Period up to 2050.

ANS’s Bilbao y León picked to lead World Nuclear Association

Bilbao y León

ANS member Sama Bilbao y León, currently head of the Division of Nuclear Technology Development and Economics at the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency, will succeed Agneta Rising as the World Nuclear Association’s director general, the WNA announced this morning.

Rising, who took the reins of the WNA in January 2013, is the former vice president, environment, at Vattenfall AB; cofounder and former president of Women in Nuclear; and former president of both the European Nuclear Society and Swedish Nuclear Society. The WNA said that she is stepping down at the end of October “to move to new endeavors.” Rising will continue as director general until the end of October, with Bilbao y León serving as “director general in waiting” beginning October 5.

IAEA Director General reports to agency's board

Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi delivering his opening statement to the IAEA Board of Governors. Photo: D. Calma/IAEA

Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, delivered a statement on September 14 to the agency’s Board of Governors during a meeting in Vienna, Austria.

Grossi briefed Member States on nuclear verification and monitoring in Iran. He explained that he had met with President Rouhani during a visit to Iran and that they had reached agreement on the resolution of the safeguards implementation issues raised by the IAEA.

Senators press Trump for answers on Saudi nuclear capabilities

Van Hollen

Amid news stories of possible undeclared nuclear facilities in Saudi Arabia and China's involvement with them (see here and here, for instance), Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.) on August 19 led a bipartisan group of senate colleagues in sending a letter to President Trump requesting more information on the matter.

Cosigners included Sens. Rand Paul (R., Ky.), Jeff Merkley (D., Ore.), Susan Collins (R., Maine), Tim Kaine (D., Va.), and Jerry Moran (R., Kan.).