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Sodium-cooled fast nuclear reactor


Technology Description

Several sodium-cooled fast reactors (SFRs) have already been built and operated in several countries, making it one of the best established Generation IV technologies. SFRs feature a fast neutron spectrum, liquid sodium coolant, and a closed fuel cycle. Full-sized designs (up to 1 500 MW) mostly use mixed uranium plutonium oxide fuel, as part of future closed nuclear fuel cycles with multi-recycling of nuclear materials.
France operated for a number of years the 1200 MWe Superphenix industrial prototype that demonstrated the operational performance of the technology with MOX fuel at industrial scale. Russia has operated commercial SFRs for many years. The 600 MW BN-600 has been operating since 1980, and the 800 MW BN-800 was connected to the grid in 2015. Small designs in the 100 MW range are also being considered. SFRs have a higher (550C) outlet temperature than light water reactors, increasing the range of possible non-electricity applications. Reducing capital costs and increasing passive safety are important R&D aims, together with the industrial deployment of advanced fuel reprocessing technologies.

Relevance for Net Zero

Technology has been demonstrated on a industrial scale, but uncertainty on future costs persists. The interest in this type of technology (together with its associated closed fuel cycle) resides in the optimisation of the use of uranium resources and a minimisation of the amounts of final nuclear waste through the possibility to multi-recycle nuclear materials. It is estimated that for a given quantity of natural uranium, a fast reactor such as an SFR can produce up to 100 times more energy than a Generation 3 light water reactor, so that there would be enough uranium to power this kind of fission reactor for thousands of years. In addition, higher costs for uranium could make fast reactors more interesting (since multi-recycling allows to save on fresh uranium fuel requirements). In addition, this reactor type offers the ability to reduce the volume, radiotoxicity and lifetime of the final high-level nuclear waste.

Key Countries

China, France, India, Japan, Russia, United States

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