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IAEA's International Project on Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles (INPRO). Scientific-Technical Reminiscences.

V. M. Murogov, PUBLISHED 25.12.2016


Twenty years ago, by the assignment of Minatom (Russian Ministry for Atomic Energy), I joined the IAEA as Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Nuclear Energy (DNE) and Manager of the IAEA's Major Program 1 (MP1) "Nuclear Power, Fuel Cycle and Nuclear Science".

For the years of work for the IAEA, I have accumulated vast archives of documents including those on the DNE's scientific, technical and managerial issues and initiatives as follows:

      - development of INPRO (innovative projects for NPPs and NFCs),

      - development of the IAEA's Program on Nuclear Knowledge Management (cross-cutting program),

      - development of a new trend called "Comparative Analysis of Nuclear Energy Role for Sustainable Energy Development" (Program C - MP1).

The archives accumulated helped create information databases at the MEPhI International Center of Nuclear Education and at the Center for Nuclear Knowledge Management of the Obninsk Institute of Atomic Energy (IAE) . At those centers, young talented researchers are involved in the analysis and development of ideas enclosed in the above programs.

The direct supervisor of this work is A.A. Andrianov, Cand. Sc. (Phys-Math), associate professor at the IAE. Owing to his contribution, it became possible to promote the analysis of materials required for making a recorded history of the IAEA activity, relating to the above trends, in 1996 thru 2003, and retrace the results of that activity up to the present.

V. M. Murogov

1. Background (1996-2000)

From the outset of the IAEA, one of the Agency's main objectives was the analysis and spread of information, knowledge and experience gained by leading nuclear nations.

In the 1960s-1970s, the IAEA used to publish surveys and analytical reports prepared at its request by major nuclear experts (see, for example, Atomic Energy Review, 1963-1980s), which promoted the development and spread of nuclear technologies in medicine, agriculture, industry etc. the world over.

However, the situation sharply changed after the Three-Mile Island (1979) and, Chernobyl (1986) accidents as well as Iraqi (1991) events. Forced by the circumstances, under the pressure from the public, and due to the policy pursued by some anti-nuclear nations (e.g. Austria), the IAEA had to shift the priority activity towards supervisory functions (expressions like "watch dog" relative to the IAEA work became popular). In 1996, the Department of Nuclear Safety and Security (DNSS) was established (based on the "Russian" Department of Nuclear Energy - DNE). An Additional Protocol was elaborated (1993-98 annexes to the nonproliferation regime) by the Department of Safeguards (DS). The priority of safety was shown by the issue of a special Nuclear Safety Review to be presented at each General Conference along with the IAEA Director General's report. The DS activity was growing similarly and even at a higher rate. Practically all resolutions of a General Conference, determining priorities in the IAEA program of work, related to the activity of two departments - DS and DNSS. To compensate for the balance in the Program activity, aid to developing countries was increasing (Department of Technical Cooperation).

The peak of that shift coincided with the promotion of a Russian representative Victor Murogov to the Head of DNE and the Manager of the "Nuclear Energy & Nuclear Fuel Cycle" Program MP1. According to Hans Blix (Director General of IAEA in 1981 till 1997), Victor Murogov was a nuclear expert and a professor rather than a program manager. Soon a contradiction arose concerning the decisive role of the development of nuclear technologies for the future of nuclear power including nuclear safety (priority of DNE) and the absolute priority of safety (DNSS and DS) in the IAEA plans.

Vigorous activity and the results of work of DNE experts more and more pointed at the necessity of developing innovative technologies to leave the stagnation period typical of global nuclear energy in the late 20th century.

Scientific seminars and conferences, held in developing countries, showed the requirement for changes and for a more active role of the IAEA in the field of innovations. The opinion of national nuclear experts - in situ professionals - was one of determining factors. Taking that factor into account, DNE made some important steps, as follows:

      - A series of advisory group meetings - AGM (attended by leading nuclear experts from fifteen countries) on the necessity to elaborate and adopt - as part of the IAEA Program - an international project on innovative development of NPPs and NFCs (AGM on developing innovative low-cost proliferation-resistant nuclear reactor technology, December 14-16, 1998; July 07-09, 1999; October 1999). The results of those meetings were delivered as a Report to the IAEA Director General, ending with the requirement to elaborate IAEA-supervised international project on innovative development of NPPs and NFCs (similar to the 1999 ITER Project).

The IAEA Director General's approval helped arrange - in a relatively short time - and hold the following events:

      - Scientific Forum (round-table talks) on innovative development of nuclear power (September 1999);

      - Industrial Forum attended by major nuclear companies (January 1998 - 2000) supporting the initiative of the Secretariat (DNE) .

The next important step became the issue - on the initiative of DNE - of the Three-Agency Study. The participating agencies - IAEA, NEA, and IEA (OECD) - started their talks in 2000. The Study came out in 2002, after prolonged discussions.

After the aforementioned IAEA meetings of 1998-99, it became clear that innovative technologies would not be boosted by industry only if the IAEA kept acting as a supervisor, and that conditions for the Agency's new initiative had been formed. A decision was made that a Scientific Forum of experts would be held at a regular General Conference parallel to a meeting of diplomats. The first two-day round-table Forum (1999) was so successful largely due to the active stand of the Russian delegation (Academician N.N. Ponomarev-Stepnoy, Head of Minatom E.O. Adamov etc.) supported by experts from India, Argentina, Brazil, and - which is of particular importance - by the US delegation headed by Ambassador J. Ritch III). It was decided that such forums should be held regularly (at present, the Scientific Forum is an integral part of a General Conference.

To consolidate a success, the Department of Nuclear Energy proposed to open Scientific Forums with a special annual research journal - Nuclear Technology Review. The first issue - NTR-2001 - was presented at the Board of Governors (March 2001) and then at 2001 General Conference, where unexpectedly - for the IAEA officials - caused keen interest and support on the part of IAEA Member States.

Starting from 2003, NTR began to generalize all results in the progress of the nuclear technology beyond nuclear power engineering (including non-energy applications) thus reflecting the interest of most IAEA Member States towards various use of nuclear technologies. One of indications of such interest was a colored edition of NTR as a research report - contrary to official black-and-white reports prepared by DNSS and DS.

Still, since all the above activity looked like initiatives not reflected either in the IAEA Program or in the Agency budget, the necessity arose to add innovation activity to the IAEA Plan of action as part of MP1. Besides, appeals to "nuclear renaissance", to the priority of innovative developments became more insistent .

A strict proposal of DNE was formed, and discussions about launching a new IAEA initiative started at Directorate meetings. In particular, that initiative could include the establishment of an ongoing group "Task Force" engaged in regular activity such as data collection, issue of analytical surveys, arrangement of seminars etc.

Upon approval by the Director General (DG), the Head of DNE appealed - on behalf of the DG - to the IAEA Member States with the proposal to set up an initiative group of experts (Task Force) to elaborate a concept for an international innovation project, and send their representatives to the Conference (July 14, 2000).

Two basic lines of activity were determined for the future Task Force, as follows:

1 - Determine requirements for future nuclear power, nuclear power plant, and nuclear fuel cycle;

2 - Determine types and characteristics of reactors meeting the specified requirements.

Initially it was proposed that due to the inertia of plans and the Agency's two-year budget, work should be arranged based on extra-budgetary funding of cost-free IAEA experts.

A stage of practical implementation of the IAEA's (DNE's) new initiative had come, and the RF President's initiative at the UN Millennium Summit of 2000 in New York became the decisive event at the break of the centuries.

2. Development of INPRO. Collision of concepts. First stage (2000 thru 2003)

On September 9, 2000, at the UN Millennium Summit, the RF President proposed to ensure sustainable development based on nuclear power with the guaranteed solving of safety and non-proliferation problems.

The matter concerned nuclear power without pure plutonium (and also without free or released plutonium) and without enriched uranium-235 (without highly enriched U-235 or - in the distant future - complete transition to plutonium fuel).

In the end, the RF President made an important political move by suggesting that the IAEA should act as the Project manager and coordinator with the participation of experts from Member States.

This historic Russian initiative fell on the ground well prepared for its implementation, taking into account that the requirement for innovative nuclear technologies and nuclear fuel cycles was recognized in the IAEA (at least, in the Department of Nuclear Energy). As a result, the already discussed idea of Task Force idea became - since 2000 - INPRO - International Project on Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles.

Thus, it was the start of preparations for the forthcoming General Conference as well as for a Scientific Forum and a meeting of the Board of Governors, where a decision (the General Conference resolution) in favor of INPRO was to be taken.

It turned out from the very beginning that there were several approaches (concepts) to the INPRO targets, content, and plan of actions.

The Russian side (Minister E.O. Adamov, M.N. Ryzhov, etc.), acting as the Customers, demanded that the INPRO should follow the concept of "naturally" safe nuclear power based on the lead-cooled fast reactor and "on-site" fuel cycle.

E.O. Adamov's position was rather tough: "As I give money (preliminarily, about one million USD were to be obtained from a certain non-budgetary fund for the INPRO implementation based on cost-free experts sent to the IAEA Secretariat), I will determine a Program of work".

I had an opportunity to outline the position of the Secretariat (formulated earlier and based on the opinion of the DNE experts):

      - The allocated extra-budgetary funds belong now to the IAEA, and it is the Secretariat that would determine their use, taking into account opinions of Member States and of future participants in the Project (elaborate a Roadmap for INPRO).

Viewpoints of leading nuclear nations (USA, France, etc.): "We are not developing countries to take an outsider project as a basis for our future. In case such a project is to be considered, it will be implemented with due account of advanced national developments in those countries"

Argentina, Brazil, India, China, etc.: "If the Russian project is so remarkable, it is not clear why Russia itself cannot fulfill it to show its advantages to the whole of nuclear community". This opinion grew stronger after the tour of a Minatom (RF Ministry for Atomic Energy) delegation over those countries advertising the BREST reactor. According to the Brazil ambassador, "If the INPRO objective is BREST, we are leaving this project". (Later Brazil and Argentina appeared the primary boosters of INPRO.) It is indicated in a certain UN resolution on the IAEA activity (2001) that "INPRO should realize aspirations of developing countries". The Argentinian representative Prof Cheremelo, one of the leaders of the national nuclear industry, later chaired the first IAEA Conference on Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles upon the results of the 1st stage of INPRO (2003).

Germany and some other nations are ready to support (not contradict) the Project implementation as part of the IAEA Program provided the issues of safety and non-proliferation are settled.

Position of the Secretariat (including the Chief Project Manager, Head of DNE and managers of six tasks in DNE): "The Project should combine efforts of the maximum possible number of Member States to become actually international and obtain guaranteed funding in the future (both extra-budgetary and regular).

With all the above in view, the priority task was the elaboration of the Project concept paying particular attention to the following issues:

      - Comparative (systemic) analysis of the nuclear power role for sustainable (energy) development (Why it is necessary to promote nuclear power the world over including developing countries);

      - Elaboration of requirements for future nuclear power (What nuclear power and NFC should look like in the future) along with the analysis of NPP & NFC types and technologies;

      - Elaboration of requirements for countries wishing to develop nuclear power (What countries have the right to this).

After fairly severe debates with E.O. Adamov, the sides came to a conclusion that the first two issues should become decisive for the first year of work at INPRO as part of the IAEA Program. The participating countries (first of all, Russia) were to arrange parallel "domestic" activity and ensure their contribution to the fulfillment of INPRO's first stage. Actually, the first stage was completed in June 2003 as discussions of INPRO materials and participants' reports at the first IAEA Conference on Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles (Vienna) .

It is worth mentioning that at the 1st stage of INPRO it was two nations that thoroughly examined and supervised the activity of the IAEA Secretariat: Russia and USA.

Russia's position

The RF President's initiative at the UN Summit, contacts with RF Minatom, RF President's reception of an IAEA delegation headed by Director General ElBaradei in Moscow brought about the corresponding governmental decree.

That decree, whose details can be found in the decisions by RF Minatom. RF Academy of Sciences, and RF State Nuclear Supervision Committee, as well as establishment of a Board of Directors for Russian participation in INPRO and of an Innovation Center under the Kurchatov Institute (headed by Academician E.P. Velikhov) provided not only financial support and sending of three cost-free experts for INPRO but also major R&D work at INPRO with the results delivered to the IAEA as "intellectual" contribution to the Project.

During the 1st stage of INPRO (until 2003), most substantial contribution was made by Kurchatov Institute experts P.N. Alexeev, S.A. Subbotin, Yu.A. Gagarinsky, V.F. Tsibulsky etc. (under the supervision of N.N. Ponomarev-Stepnoy) and by cost-free IAEA experts (N.S. Rabotnov, V.S. Kagramanian, etc.).

It is interesting to note that the work of Russian experts was greatly favored by foreign specialists including two experts from Germany - despite the general negative attitude of German leaders towards the future of nuclear power.

By using personal contacts of J. Kupitz (Executive Manager of the Project and Head of the Nuclear Power Technology Development Section), it became possible to obtain support from the German mission under the motto "INPRO should prove the possibility of creating safe & secure nuclear power plants and their fuel cycles". Those experts (particularly, F. Depisch, who worked in close contact with Russian nuclear specialists) greatly contributed to the INPRO success at the 1st stage of the Project.

US position

The US Ambassador to the IAEA John Ritch III rendered great support to the DNE initiatives over innovative technologies. He spoke in favor of a Scientific Forum and issue of a Nuclear Technology Review.

Later he favored resolutions of the IAEA General Conference on Nuclear Knowledge Management (small-power nuclear reactors and fast reactors) as a line of innovation research.

Of great importance was his "smoothing" of the sharply negative position of DoS (US Department of State) over the establishment and funding of INPRO Task Force . J. Ritch assisted in inviting the INPRO Manager V.M. Murogov to Washington for talks with officials from DoE (US Department of Energy) and NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) relating to the prospects of nuclear power in the US and the world over as well as to the development of INPRO as part of the IAEA Program 1. Yanko Yanev, DDG-NE Advisor for INPRO & Knowledge Management Program, also took part in that trip.

Of principal value was a meeting with Under Secretary of Energy Dr. Ernest Moniz (at present, Secretary of Energy) entirely devoted to INPRO. Here are basic provisions of Dr. E. Moniz's opinion.

1. INPRO disturbs the common IAEA practice. No one essential project, associated with the future of nuclear power, may be realized by the IAEA unless it has obtained approval of the United States.

2. At the given stage, the Project objectives concerning promotion of innovative nuclear technologies for NPPs and NFCs to developing countries are inexpedient and unacceptable.

3. From the viewpoint of the US, the most reasonable task would be focusing efforts on the requirements for infrastructure development as an indicator of newcomers' readiness to using nuclear technologies. It is desirable to analyze preparedness, opportunities and admissibility of this or that country to the development of nuclear technologies, i.e. create a kind of Country Profile to obtain a license for using nuclear technologies and, all the more, for developing nuclear power in that country.

One could see that the third item corresponds to the third task specified by the IAEA Secretariat for INPRO. However, the INPRO limitation by that task as the primary objective from the very beginning was turning INPRO into an appendage to the GIF-4 Project, which was intensely lobbied by the US starting from 2000 (via NEA - Nuclear Energy Agency - as an analogue of the IAEA Secretariat).

We were of the opinion, that both projects - INPRO and GIF-4 - should complement each other and should have a common strategic mission: evaluation and feasibility of full-scale development of nuclear power in the future. INPRO could be responsible for conceptual requirements for nuclear power (NPPs and NFCs) while GIF-4, for particular fulfillment of those requirements. All this demands equal support for both projects from leading nuclear nations - donors of innovative technologies.

We told Mr. Moniz just about it. And in the future things went on exactly this way. Instead of antagonism, we achieved close interaction and consolidation of political and coordination committees for better exchange of information. More than that, after the Project had been entered into the regular program, representatives of leading nuclear (including western) nations headed the INPRO Section.

During the talks in Washington (DoE, NRC and DoS), our confidence in a great significance of the political component of INPRO (apart from its technical content) was confirmed.

At first, owing to INPRO and the annual presentation of NTR (Nuclear Technology Review) at the Scientific Forum, a report by the IAEA Director General at a General Conference was discussed, and one of sessions of the Board of Governors (with a report delivered by the Head of DNE) was devoted to the development of nuclear technologies and innovations. An ongoing Forum was established for wide discussion of the IAEA role in the progress of nuclear technologies, and Russian representatives took an active part in the Forum work.

At second, despite the US words about just a million dollars invested by Russia in INPRO as against tens of millions contributed by the USA, Japan and other western partners to the DNSS and DS, Russia became the leader of the Project - according to the UN resolutions over the IAEA report (2001 and 2002) "meeting expectations of developing countries" (the phrase coordinated with DNSS and proposed by the Indian delegation).

As to INPRO objectives and further development (in addition to the vital task - IAEA Forum for analysis and discussion of nuclear technologies), it is necessary to say that the elaboration of requirements for countries, planning to develop nuclear technologies and nuclear power, taking into account consequences of the Fukushima accident and growing concern over the obligatory character of the IAEA's Safety & Security standards (the aforementioned US demands for INPRO) is becoming vital for today's INPRO agenda.

Topics: Victor Murogov, IAEA, Opinions

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