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Non-nuclear energy


Fission and radiation protection

Gas-Cooled Fast Reactor: Fast Route to Sustainable Energy

Nuclear reactors with a high energy, 'fast neutron' flux have the unique capability of providing sustainable energy sources, both in terms of the highly efficient use of fissile fuel and a reduction in volume and radio-toxicity of nuclear waste produced. The Gas-Cooled Fast Reactor (GCFR) project explores the particular advantages of a high-temperature, gas-cooled fast reactor primarily as an economic electricity generator, with good sustainability and safety characteristics, which also has the potential to support hydrogen production.

Innovation in fuel and materials

© Courtesy of CEA
© Courtesy of CEA
This project's development of a viable concept is the first step in an ambitious long-term R&D programme for GCFRs. The ambitious goals pose challenges that require innovative solutions and potential technological breakthroughs for the fuel, fuel-cycle processes and safety systems. The development of new materials with superior resistance in a fast neutron environment and very high temperatures is required.

The GCFR will take advantage of synergies with Very High Temperature Reactor (VHTR) work, where the development of a high-performance helium turbine and coupling technologies for process heat applications is being undertaken. Close links to R&D materials for VHTR will be maintained via Sixth Framework Programme projects RAPHAEL and ExtreMAT.

Contribution to GIF

GCFR is aligned to the Generation IV International Forum (GIF) R&D Programme on gas-cooled fast reactors and, together with the JRC fuels R&D programme, constitutes the Euratom contribution to GIF in this area. Key areas addressed by GCFR include research on direct coolant cycles using core coolant directly to power a gas turbine and comparison with an indirect cycle, transmutation of radioactive isotopes in core conditions, the safety approach, analysis and harmonisation with other reactor systems. The conceptual design will feature risk minimisation including passive safety measures, computer code benchmarking, and innovative fuel and fuel-cycle processes.

The GCFR project supports research work by PhD students and post doctorates via direct participation of two universities in the work programme and with three other consortium partners. Participation in such an exciting area of technology will attract and develop young engineers and retain key nuclear skills.

Core designs, fuel and cycle options

© Courtesy of CEA
© Courtesy of CEA
The long-term GIF R&D programme aims to establish preliminary viability by 2007, confirm this viability by 2012, and complete a conceptual design by 2019. Moreover, an experimental GCFR of limited power, called the Experimental Technology Demonstration Reactor (ETDR), could be built around 2015 to qualify key technologies.

The intention is to exploit the favourable characteristics, attributable in part to the gas coolant, to have a selfgenerating core (converting the natural uranium fuel in the core to fissile material - the fuel), which meets the sustainability requirement and brings advantages for proliferation resistance and economics. Compared to earlier GCFR concepts, the improved safety characteristics of the design will come from a reduced performance requirement for the core.

The project will identify promising concepts for innovative refractory fuel with enhanced fission product retention and the potential for full actinide recycling, possibly via an integrated on-site fuel-reprocessing unit. The key milestones, to which the GCFR project contributes a European perspective, concern the safety approach and pre-selection of GCFR design options, the preliminary viability of GCFR with parallel activities for ETDR, and establishing its mission in the future development of GCFR (2007).

Sustainable energy security

The top-level goals for GCFR are directed at the long-term competitiveness of nuclear energy production, which is safe, clean and does not contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. As other forms of energy production become scarce, then new sustainable energy supplies will become essential for economic and societal stability. The goal for GCFR is to be competitive with other energy forms to enable its early introduction as a commercially viable system. This also requires that societal expectations on safety aspects and waste disposal are addressed.

The GCFR project offers the opportunity to collaborate in the development of a sustainable energy resource whilst taking a proportionate share of the cost. Many of the world's nations, both industrialised and developing, believe that a greater use of nuclear energy will be required if future energy security is to be achieved.

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