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The ongoing effort to convert the world’s research reactors
The Ghana Research Reactor-1, located in Accra, Ghana, was converted from HEU fuel to LEU in 2017. Photo: Argonne National Laboratory
In late 2018, Nigeria’s sole operating nuclear research reactor, NIRR-1, switched to a safer uranium fuel. Coming just 18 months on the heels of a celebrated conversion in Ghana, the NIRR-1 reboot passed without much fanfare. However, the switch marked an important global milestone: NIRR-1 was the last of Africa’s 11 operating research reactors to run on high-enriched uranium fuel.
The 40-year effort to make research reactors safer and more secure by replacing HEU fuel with low-enriched uranium is marked by a succession of quiet but immeasurably significant milestones like these. Before Africa, a team of engineers from many organizations, including the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, concluded its conversion work in South America and Australia. Worldwide, 71 reactors in nearly 40 countries have undergone conversions to LEU, defined as less than 20 percent uranium-235. Another 31 research reactors have been permanently shut down.
Klara Insulander Björk, Aneta Herman, Marcus Hedberg, Christian Ekberg
Nuclear Science and Engineering | Volume 193 | Number 11 | November 2019 | Pages 1255-1264
Technical Paper | dx.doi.org/10.1080/00295639.2019.1614368
Articles are hosted by Taylor and Francis Online.
Uranium nitride (UN) is considered as nuclear reactor fuel because of, among other reasons, its high uranium density and its high thermal conductivity. Its main drawback is that it relatively easily dissolves in hot water, which is particularly problematic when it is used in water-cooled reactors. One possible remedy to this is to add some corrosion inhibitor as dopant to the UN matrix. A number of dopants have been identified that have the potential to inhibit the dissolution process, and their respective merits have been investigated both by neutronic simulations and dissolution experiments. It is concluded that chromium is the most promising candidate.