The TOURR project is a response to the challenge of coordinating the optimized exploitation of available research reactors in Europe. Therefore, its primary objective is to develop an overall strategy and prepare the ground for its implementation. This strategic goal can be divided into six specific objectives.
Assessment of the current status of the European research reactors fleet
The first point to tackle is making an inventory of existing research reactors. Such inventory already exists having been created and maintained by the IAEA. However, our survey will start from the IAEA database, and will go far beyond that. Information like scope of implemented applications, scientific strength of each particular facility, user structure, instrumentation, future developing plans, actual and future needs, etc. will be collected and then used as the base for deriving the strategy.
Estimation of future needs
The main goals of the European research reactors fleet are
- Education & Training,
- Basic and fundamental research and its instruments,
- Medical applications, including isotope R&D as well as beam applications,
- Material testing, including fuel, structural material and its instrumentation,
- Core physics testing for reactors in "zero power" installations.
Consequently future needs will be elicited and evaluated along these five main interests for neutron sources.
Plan for the upgrade of the research reactor fleet
From the current status, and future needs, an update plan can be developed for the European research reactors fleet.
Recent new ideas about small, accelerator driven neutron sources are coming up. They will have moderators with spatially focussed beams dedicated to particular applications, like isotope production, radiography, spectroscopy, cancer treatment etc. Applications like this will increase the demand for research with RR. New methods to be used with these devices need to be developed and tested at the RR. Research reactors already receive queries related to biological science research, hence this calls for an increase in the RR availability.
Plan to maintain the fleet
Factors influencing the sustainability of the research reactors fleet will be analysed: material and components ageing, waste management, cost of fuel manufacturing and upgrades, , systems, instrumentation, increasing safety and licencing requirements, etc. Special attention will be given to the ageing of the current staff and possible generation gap.
Developing tools for optimal use of research reactors fleet
Scarce resources call for optimisation of use. A good example is set by radioisotope production, where irradiation schedules are coordinated by Nuclear Medicine Europe (NM-EU, former AIPES), while longer term plans are collected by OECD NEA High Level Group on Medical Radioisotopes and monitored by the European Observatory on the supply of medical radioisotopes. This should be further extended to other applications, to exploit all possible synergies.
Since long, the European neutron beam research reactors coordinate their common interest on the level of the European Neutron Scattering Association and by annual meetings of the heads of these facilities. This should be integrated into the overall RRs planning.
Rising awareness of decision makers and the public on the role of research reactor
Research reactors are today often wrongly seen as a relic of early nuclear era, not needed anymore, perhaps with exception for molybdenum-99 production. It may be needed to change the image of research reactors among key decision makers and the public in general and demonstrate, that research reactors are, in fact, modern research facilities providing answers to the challenges of modern societies: health, energy, key technologies, and cultural heritage.
All the above presented objectives, tackle multiple challenges and underline the urgent need of a European strategy for research reactors which represents the main objective of this project. We expect that the implementation of the TOURR project will help to contribute, among other outcomes, to strengthen Europe's competitive advantage over other countries.