Sustainable fission energy: demonstrate the physics and technology of an Accelerator Driven System (ADS) for transmuting long-lived radioactive waste
Among the waste in spent fuel of nuclear power plants, the minor actinides are those substances which combine a high radiotoxicity and a long lifetime. Their elimination would not exempt them from disposal in underground facilities, but it would substantially reduce the size of these facilities and the required duration of the disposal. The transmutation of these minor actinides, i.e. the destruction of these harmful nuclei can be achieved in a most concentrated way in accelerator driven systems (ADS). Transmutation, in brief, is the transformation of one isotope into another one by bombarding the atom with a high neutron flux. The underlying idea is to transmute long-lived fission products and minor actinides, the most problematic due to their long half-life, into shorter-lived waste, reducing the burden on the nuclear waste disposal.
The MYRRHA project will allow the demonstration and performance assessment of the transmutation concept. MYRRHA is not intended as an industrial transmutator, but as a first research tool for the demonstration of the effectiveness of the process. It will learn us a lot about the procedures to be used during transmutation exercises and will provide useful information for the next generation industrial transmutators.
Sustainable energy: development of fast spectrum reactor and fusion technology
Sustainable nuclear energy development requires the gradual transition of the current thermal spectrum reactor park to a fast spectrum reactor park. In order to reach this objective, innovative fuels and materials need to be tested and qualified for the future GEN IV fast reactor concepts. Also for the development of fusion energy the challenges lay to a large extent in the area of materials. The development of materials and fuels can only be performed in an irradiation facility where fully controlled and representative experimental conditions can be obtained. Hence, a flexible irradiation facility is needed. Thanks to its fast spectrum and spallation target, MYRRHA can fulfil this need.
Although MYRRHA is especially suited for testing and demonstrating the proper working of different technological components for the heavy liquid metal based reactor concepts (e.g. Lead Fast Reactor), MYRRHA will aim at testing new technological developments for sensors and instrumentation for innovative fission reactors, fusion reactors and space applications.
Enabling technologies for renewable energies: production of neutron irradiated silicon
Renewable energies such as windmills, solar panels and hybrid/electric cars all rely on power electronics. Power electronics are therefore so-called enabling technologies for sustainable development. These power electronics are essentially based on semiconductors that are fabricated from neutron irradiated silicon in order to obtain the required homogeneous resistivity. This is currently being performed in materials testing reactors (MTR's) such as BR2 and is planned to be continued in MYRRHA.
Health care: production of radioisotopes for nuclear medicine
For millions of patients around the world nuclear medicine represents essential diagnostic and curative techniques for e.g. the treatment of cancer. Radioactive solutions for diagnosis are prepared and dispatched every day to the whole world. 80 % of these contain an isotope of molybdenum (99Mo) produced in Europe by irradiation of uranium targets in three reactors including BR2.
To guarantee the continuity of the production of radioisotopes with a very short lifetime, the availability of at least one reactor is required at any time. The intermittent way of operation of such reactors justifies the need for at least three supply sources in Europe. Moreover, since these reactors are reaching the end of their foreseen lifetime, it is considered to replace them by new systems. MYRRHA will allow SCK•CEN to pursue the supply of medical isotopes after the decommissioning of BR2.
Science: fundamental research
MYRRHA will serve as an irradiation tool for research in reactor and fuel cycle technology, reactor physics, material and fuel science, neutron physics and life sciences. MYRRHA will therefore form a cradle for the generation of new expertise in these science areas.
Science at the proton accelerator will allow to make progress in different fields of fundamental physics. The ISOL@MYRRHA facility is being conceived for this purpose. More information can be found on the ISOL@MYRRHA website.