Next-generation nuclear reactors may not be safer - French watchdog

Mon Apr 27, 2015 1:06pm EDT
 
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By Geert De Clercq

PARIS, April 27 (Reuters) - The next generation of nuclear reactors being developed in countries such as France, Russia, China and Japan may not be safer than those being built today, French nuclear safety watchdog IRSN said on Monday.

In a study of six future reactor designs being worked on by the U.S.-led "Generation IV International Forum", the IRSN said only the sodium-cooled fast reactor (SFR) model was far enough along in the development process to envisage building a prototype during the first half of this century.

But it could not say whether it would be safer than models currently being built for service.

"While it seems possible for SFR technology to guarantee a safety level at least equivalent to that targeted by generation III pressurised-water reactors, IRSN is unable to determine whether it could significantly exceed this level," it said.

The comments represent the first significant public criticism of the next-generation designs among nuclear safety officials of the 4G forum's 13 member countries, which also include Britain, South Korea and Canada.

The vast majority of the more than 400 so-called second-generation reactors operating worldwide today are pressurised-water reactors (PWR), built mostly between 1970 and 1990.

Utilities are also building a handful of third-generation reactors like Areva's EPR reactor and Westinghouse's AP1000, which use the same basic design as 2G reactors but offer more safety features.

The 4G forum focuses on radical new designs, such as cooling reactors with liquid metals instead of water, and operating at much higher temperatures.   Continued...