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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 submarine propulsion.

Additional recommended knowledge



The neutrons produced by a research reactor are used for 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 have small power outputs compared to power reactors. While a typical electricity producing reactor may have a thermal power output of 3,000 MW, research reactors typically range from 10 kW to 10 MW. The total thermal power of the world's 283 research reactors is little over 3000 MW.

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. 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 down the neutrons 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 LEU

The U.S. Department of Energy initiated a program in 1978 to develop the means to convert research reactors from using highly enriched uranium to the use of low enriched uranium, in support of its nonproliferation policy. [1] 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. [2]

Also in 2004, the Texas A&M reactor switched to LEU after decades using HEU. The University of Massachusetts reactor has made a similar switch earlier. These changes are a part of an anti-terrorist initiative since 9/11 headed up by the Bush Administration.

Classes of Research Reactors

  • Aqueous homogeneous reactor
  • Argonaut class reactor
  • DIDO class, six high-flux reactors worldwide
  • TRIGA, a highly successful class with >50 installations worldwide
  • SLOWPOKE reactor class, developed by Canada
  • Miniature neutron source reactor, based on the SLOWPOKE design, currently exported by China

Research centers that operate a reactor:

  • CONSORT, a 100kW reactor operated by Imperial College at a site near Ascot, Berkshire, England.
  • ZED-2 (1960–) at AECL's Chalk River Laboratories in Deep River, Ontario, Canada
  • McMaster Nuclear Reactor (5 MW, 1959–) in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
  • National Research Universal Reactor (135 MW, 200MW, 1957–) at AECL's Chalk River Laboratories in Deep River, Ontario, Canada
  • Petten nuclear reactors (30 kW and 60MW, 1960–) in Petten, Netherlands
  • High flux reactor HFR of the Institut Laue-Langevin in Grenoble, France
  • Orphee of the Laboratoire Leon Brillouin at Saclay, France
  • FRM-II at Technische Universität München in Garching, Germany (20 MW, 2004–)
  • OPAL (20MW, 2007?–) at Lucas Heights near Sydney, Australia
  • Pool-type reactor at Moscow Engineering Physics Institute in Moscow.
  • SAFARI-1 at NECSA, Pelindaba, South Africa
  • HANARO at Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute in Daejeon, South Korea

Decommissioned research reactors:

  • ASTRA, 10MW, 1960–1999, in Seibersdorf, Austria
  • JASON reactor (Argonaut, 10 kW, 1962–1996) in a 17th century building at the Royal Naval College in Greenwich near London
  • MOATA ((Argonaut, 100 kW, 1961–1995) and HIFAR (DIDO, 1958–2007 at Lucas Heights near Sydney, Australia
  • NPD reactor (20 MW, 1961–1987) at AECL's Rolfton near Deep River, Ontario Canada
  • NRX (1952–1992) at AECL's Chalk River Laboratories in Deep River, Ontario, Canada
  • PLUTO reactor (DIDO, 26MW, 1957–1990) in Harwell, Oxfordshire, England
  • Pool Test Reactor (10 kW, 1957–1990) at AECL's Chalk River Laboratories in Deep River, Ontario, Canada
  • WR-1 (60 MW, 1965–1985) at AECL's Whiteshell Laboratories, near Pinawa, Manitoba
  • ZEEP (1945–1973) of the Chalk River Laboratories in Deep River, Ontario, Canada


  • UIC Nuclear Issues Briefing Paper # 66
  • 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

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Research_reactor". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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