Agreement between CEA and IGCAR on Liquid Metal Reactor’s Safety: a very fruitful collaboration for both partners!

Christian Latgé

For half a century, the CEA and the Indira Gandhi Atomic Research Center (IGCAR) have been collaborating in the field of R&D dedicated to the safety and security of Fast Neutron Reactors cooled with liquid sodium. This reactor sector is of fundamental importance for the country both with regard to the production of carbon-free energy and the management of waste from all reactors installed or planned. Moreover, meeting the energy challenge is of very high importance to India’s economic growth imperatives and its efforts to raise its level of human development. The Indian fast reactor programme started with the 40 MWt / 13.2 MWe Fast Breeder Test Reactor (FBTR), commissioned in 1985, reaching its criticality on 18th October 1985, at Kalpakkam (Tamil Nadu). It was designed and built in the 70’s, within the frame of the bilateral collaboration between France and India, based on the Rapsodie concept, an experimental Sodium Fast Reactor that operated in France between 1967 and 1982.   FBTR is the only reactor in the world, which uses the uranium-plutonium mixed carbide as driver fuel.

Over the years, the performance of the reactor FBTR has been very high, providing very large operational feedback to support the nuclear enterprise of India: it was decided to build a prototype fast breeder reactor (PFBR) (500MW), using a uranium-plutonium mixed oxide.

Since 2005, the bilateral collaboration has been largely increased, stressing on the need for maintaining high levels of standards towards safety and consequently addressing many topics dealing with security and safety. The collaboration foresees technical seminars and annual coordination meetings, alternatively in Kalpakkam and Cadarache, allowing fruitful discussions on reactor safety and opening new tracks of collaborative R&D, i.e., sodium-water reaction, Na-fire modelling, corium coolant interaction, instrumentation dedicated to safety, qualification of sodium-leak detectors, in-Service inspection to monitor vessel integrity, fuel safety criteria… Moreover, R&D topics dedicated to environmental issues are also addressed, through implementing agreements including simulation of carbonation and atmospheric dispersion of sodium aerosols with a high spatial resolution.

11th CEA-IGCAR Annual Meeting in Kalpakkam (2015)

Some highlights of the collaboration are:

  • design study of large Test Section for studies of corium-sodium interaction, potentially occurring during severe accidents.
  • comparison of two hydrogen-meters based on two different techniques, set-up on Phenix intermediate loops then on experimental facility located in Cadarache,
  • pparametric study of the carbonation of sodium aerosols in a controlled atmosphere in Kalpakkam,
  • study of performance of sodium leak detectors in Cadarache,
  • study of sodium-water interaction in ferritic steam generators in Kalpakkam
  • experimental simulation of Phenix core at Kalpakkam: study of the dynamic behaviour induced by the movements of the fuel assemblies being strongly marked by the presence of the fluid (sodium).
  • Close to these Implementing agreements, seminars dedicated to some topics have been organized: Safety devices including Decay Heat Remal Systems, Emergency Reactor shutdown assemblies, Instrumentation, materials behaviour
  • Within the frame of Implementing Agreement on Education & Training, experience focused on Safety issues and particularly related to Sodium coolant, has been shared between our respective “Sodium Schools” located respectively in Kalpakkam and Cadarache. Experts from one country visiting other country have been invited to give lectures on their research activities.
Chamber located in Kalpakkam for parametric study of Na fragmentation and its impact on Na fire

These collaborative topics induce the necessity to:

  •  share some of our respective facilities :
    • In IGCAR:      ATF for studies on carbonation, SOWART for studies on sodium-water interaction, Edaiyur site for Sodium aerosol dispersion experiment in open environment, Na School for lectures…
    •  In Cadarache: Phenix reactor dynamic facility for Hydrogen-meter, FUTUNA for Sodium-leak detectors testing, DOLMEN for In-Service Inspection tests…
  • create new facilities or mock-ups :
    • In IGCAR: Chamber for Na fires, mock-up of  Phenix core for thermalhydraulic dynamic studies at Laboratory of Mechanics
    • In Cadarache: Instrumented section on Superfennec dynamic facility for Hydrogen-meter
Phenix Core Mock-up in Kalpakkam (Laboratory of mechanics)

But the collaboration between two research organizations is not just a series of technical and scientific exchanges. It is also a great human adventure which also allows, on the one hand, to visit and better understand a country very different from yours, both from a societal and cultural point of view and on the other hand to create some strong friendships between our experts.

CEA takes this opportunity to thank warmly Directors and Technical coordinators of Indira Gandhi Atomic Research Center: Dr Baldev Raj, Shri S.C Chetal, Dr P.R. Vasudeva Rao, Dr. S.A.V. Satya Murty, Dr P. Chellapandi, Dr A. K Bhaduri, Dr B.K. Nashine and all IGCAR contributors for their permanent support and willingness to obtain success in all our collaborative tasks.

Christian Latgé is the technical coordinator of Bilateral Collaboration between CEA and DAE-IGCAR on Liquid Metal Fast Reactor’s safety.