Research reactor


Research reactors are nuclear reactors that serve primarily as a neutron source. They are also called non-power reactors, in contrast to power reactors that are used for electricity production, heat generation, or maritime propulsion.


The neutrons produced by a research reactor are used for neutron scattering, non-destructive testing, analysis and testing of materials, production of radioisotopes, research and public outreach and education. Research reactors that produce radioisotopes for medical or industrial use are sometimes called isotope reactors. Reactors that are optimised for beamline experiments nowadays compete with spallation sources.

Technical aspects

Research reactors are simpler than power reactors and operate at lower temperatures. They need far less fuel, and far less fission products build up as the fuel is used. On the other hand, their fuel requires more highly enriched uranium, typically up to 20% U-235, although some use 93% U-235; while 20% enrichment is not generally considered usable in nuclear weapons, 93% is commonly referred to as "weapons grade". They also have a very high power density in the core, which requires special design features. Like power reactors, the core needs cooling, typically natural or forced convection with water, and a moderator is required to slow the neutron velocities and enhance fission. As neutron production is their main function, most research reactors benefit from reflectors to reduce neutron loss from the core.

Conversion to low enriched uranium

The International Atomic Energy Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy initiated a program in 1978 to develop the means to convert research reactors from using highly enriched uranium (HEU) to the use of low enriched uranium (LEU), in support of its nonproliferation policy.[1][2] By that time the U.S. had supplied research reactors and highly enriched uranium to 41 countries as part of its Atoms for Peace program. In 2004, the U.S. Department of Energy extended its Foreign Research Reactor Spent Nuclear Fuel Acceptance program until 2019.[3]

As of 2016, a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report concluded converting all research reactors to LEU cannot be completed until 2035 at the earliest. In part this is because the development of reliable LEU fuel for high neutron flux research reactors, that does not fail through swelling, has been slower than expected.[4] As of 2020, 72 HEU research reactors remain.[5]

Designers and constructors

While in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s there were a number of companies that specialized in the design and construction of research reactors, the activity of this market cooled down afterwards, and many companies withdrew.

The market has consolidated today into a few companies that concentrate the key projects on a worldwide basis.

The most recent international tender (1999) for a research reactor was that organized by ANSTO for the design, construction and commissioning of the OPAL reactor. Four companies were prequalified: AECL, INVAP, Siemens and Technicatom. The project was awarded to INVAP that built the reactor. In recent years, AECL withdrew from this market, and Siemens and Technicatom activities were merged into AREVA.

Classes of research reactors

Research centers

Complete list can be found at the List of nuclear research reactors.

Research centers that operate a reactor:

Reactor Name Country City Institution Power Level Operation Date
BR2 Reactor Belgium Mol Belgian Nuclear Research Center SCK•CEN 100 MW
Budapest Research Reactor[6] Hungary Budapest Hungarian Academy of Sciences Centre for Energy Research 5 MW[6] 1959[6]
Budapest University of Technology Training Reactor[7] Hungary Budapest Budapest University of Technology 100 kW 1969
ILL High-Flux Reactor France Grenoble Institut Laue-Langevin 63 MW[8]
RA-6 Argentina Bariloche Balseiro Institute, / Bariloche Atomic Centre 1 MW[9] 1982[9]
ZED-2 Canada Deep River, Ontario AECL's Chalk River Laboratories 200 W[10] 1960
McMaster Nuclear Reactor Canada Hamilton, Ontario McMaster University 5 MW 1959
National Research Universal Reactor Canada Deep River, Ontario AECL's Chalk River Laboratories 135 MW 1957
Petten nuclear reactors Netherlands Petten Dutch Nuclear Research and consultancy Group,[11] EU Joint Research Centre 30 kW and 60MW 1960
ORPHEE France Saclay Laboratoire Léon Brillouin 14 MW 1980
FRM II Germany Garching Technische Universität München 20 MW 2004
HOR Netherlands Delft Reactor Institute Delft, Delft University of Technology 2 MW
BER II Germany Berlin Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin 10 MW
Mainz Germany Mainz Universität Mainz, Institut für Kernchemie 100 kW[12]
TRIGA Mark II[13] Austria Vienna Technical University Vienna, TU Wien, Atominstitut 250 kW 1962[13]
IRT-2000 Bulgaria Sofia Bulgarian Academy of Sciences research site 2 MW
OPAL Australia Lucas Heights, New South Wales Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation 20 MW 2006
IEA-R1 Brazil São Paulo Instituto de Pesquisas Energéticas e Nucleares (IPEN) 3.5 MW 1957
IRT-2000[14] Russia Moscow Moscow Engineering Physics Institute 2.5 MW[14] 1967[14]
SAFARI-1 South Africa Pelindaba NECSA 20 MW[15] 1965[15]
HANARO South Korea Daejeon Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI) 30 MW[16] 1995[16]
LVR-15 Czech Republic Řež Nuclear Research Institute 10 MW[17] 1995[17]
North Carolina State University Reactor Program United States Raleigh, North Carolina North Carolina State University 1 MW[18] 1953[18]
HFIR United States Oak Ridge, Tennessee Oak Ridge National Laboratory
ATR United States Idaho Idaho National Laboratory
University of Missouri Research Reactor United States Columbia, Missouri University of Missouri 10 MW 1966
Maryland University Training Reactor United States College Park, Maryland University of Maryland 250 kW[19] 1970[19]
Washington State University Reactor United States Pullman, Washington Washington State University 1 MW[20]
CROCUS Switzerland Lausanne École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne
Maria reactor Poland Świerk-Otwock National Centre for Nuclear Research 30 MW 1974
TRIGA Mark I United States Irvine, California University of California, Irvine
ITU Reactor Turkey Istanbul Istanbul Technical University
ETRR-1 Egypt Inshas Nuclear Research Center 2 MW 1961
ETRR-2 Egypt Inshas Nuclear Research Center 22 MW 1997
GHARR-1[21] Ghana Accra National Nuclear Research Institute of the Ghanan Atomic Energy Commission 30 kW

Decommissioned research reactors:

Reactor Name Country City Institution Power Level Operation Date Closure Date Decommissioned
ASTRA Austria Seibersdorf 10 MW 1960 1999
CONSORT United Kingdom Ascot, Berkshire Imperial College 100 kW
JASON reactor United Kingdom Greenwich Royal Naval College 10 kW 1962 1996
MOATA Australia Lucas Heights 100 kW 1961 1995
HIFAR Australia Lucas Heights 1958 2007
HTGR (Pin-in-Block Design) United Kingdom Winfrith in Dorset, International Atomic Energy Agency 20MWt 1964 1976 July 2005[22]
DIDO United Kingdom Harwell, Oxfordshire Atomic Energy Research Establishment 1990
Nuclear Power Demonstration Canada Deep River, Ontario AECL's Rolphton plant 20 MW 1961 1987
NRX Canada Deep River, Ontario AECL's Chalk River Laboratories 1952 1992
PLUTO reactor United Kingdom Harwell, Oxfordshire Atomic Energy Research Establishment 26 MW 1957 1990
Pool Test Reactor Canada Deep River, Ontario AECL's Chalk River Laboratories 10 kW 1957 1990
WR-1 Canada Pinawa, Manitoba AECL's Whiteshell Laboratories 60 MW 1965 1985
ZEEP Canada Deep River, Ontario AECL's Chalk River Laboratories 1945 1973
More Hall Annex United States Seattle University of Washington 100 kW 1961 1988
Ewa reactor Poland Świerk-Otwock POLATOM Institute of Nuclear Energy 10 MW 1958 1995
FiR 1 Finland Espoo Helsinki University of Technology,
later VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland
250 kW[23] 1962[23] 2015[24]
RV-1 Venezuela Caracas Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Research 3 MW 1960 1994


  1. ^ "CRP on Conversion of Miniature Neutron Source Research Reactors (MNSR) to Low Enriched Uranium (LEU)". Nuclear Fuel Cycle & Waste Technology. International Atomic Energy Agency. 13 January 2014. Retrieved 25 October 2015.
  2. ^ "Reduced Enrichment for Research and Test Reactors". National Nuclear Security Administration. Archived from the original on 29 October 2004.
  3. ^ "U.S. Foreign Research Reactor Spent Nuclear Fuel Acceptance". National Nuclear Security Administration. Archived from the original on 22 September 2006.
  4. ^ Cho, Adrian (28 January 2016). "Ridding research reactors of highly enriched uranium to take decades longer than projected". Science. Retrieved 13 April 2020.
  5. ^ "IAEA highlights work to convert research reactors". World Nuclear News. 24 February 2020. Retrieved 13 April 2020.
  6. ^ a b c "Budapest Research Reactor | Budapest Neutron Centre ...for research, science and innovation!". Retrieved 2018-02-15.
  7. ^ "Institute for Nuclear Technology". Retrieved 2019-09-11.
  8. ^ "Nuclear Reactors". Retrieved 2018-02-15.
  9. ^ a b "RA-6 de Argentina" (in European Spanish). Retrieved 2018-02-15.
  10. ^ "Research reactors - Canadian Nuclear Association". Canadian Nuclear Association. Retrieved 2018-02-15.
  11. ^ "High Flux Reactor - European Commission". 13 February 2013. Retrieved 2018-02-15.
  12. ^ Mainz, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität. "Reactor". (in German). Retrieved 2018-02-15.
  13. ^ a b "ATI : Reactor". Retrieved 2018-02-15.
  14. ^ a b c "The reactor | National Research Nuclear University MEPhI". Retrieved 2018-02-15.
  15. ^ a b "SAFARI-1". Retrieved 2018-02-15.
  16. ^ a b "High-Flux Advanced Neutron Application Reactor (HANARO) | Facilities | NTI". Retrieved 2018-02-15.
  17. ^ a b "Research Reactor LVR-15 | Centrum výzkumu Řež". Retrieved 2018-02-15.
  18. ^ a b "History - Nuclear Reactor Program". Nuclear Reactor Program. Retrieved 2018-07-17.
  19. ^ a b "Maryland University Training Reactor (MUTR) | 250 kW TRIGA Reactor | University of Maryland Radiation Facilities". Retrieved 2018-06-11.
  20. ^ "Nuclear Science Center Washington State University". Retrieved 2019-08-06.
  21. ^ "Research Reactor Database - GHARR-1". International Atomic Energy Agency. Retrieved February 15, 2018.
  22. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 6 October 2012. Retrieved 12 January 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  23. ^ a b Karlsen, Wade; Vilkamo, Olli (2016-12-14). "Finland's old nuclear research reactor to be decommissioned – New Centre for Nuclear Safety under construction". VTT Impulse. Retrieved 2018-02-22.
  24. ^ "Research Reactor Database". International Atomic Energy Agency. Retrieved 2018-02-22.
  • WNA Information Paper # 61: Research Reactors
  • Nuclear Nonproliferation: DOE Needs to Take Action to Further Reduce the Use of Weapons-Usable Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors, GAO, July 2004, GAO-04-807

External links

  • IAEA searchable list of Nuclear Research Reactors in the world
  • The National Organization of Test, Research, and Training Reactors, Inc.
  • NMI3 - EU-FP7 Integrated Infrastructure Initiative for Neutron Scattering and Muon Spectroscopy