Norway considers future of Halden research reactor

Halden is a natural circulation boiling heavy water reactor, situated 100 meters within a rock hillside (Image: IFE)

IFE would like to provide an update on the strategic review of the future operation of the Halden reactor, as well as the functional problems with the first isolation valve.

The current operations license for the Halden reactor (HBWR) expires at the end of 2020, and IFE is required to reapply for a new license in 2018. Based on this situation and the significant financial challenges relating to the Halden reactor operation, IFE has over the past months conducted an extensive strategic review of the future options for the reactor. The strategic review has been based on a thorough evaluation of the investment requirements, operational risk assessment and prospect of new business opportunities for the reactor, including the work to establish a new fee model for the Halden Reactor Project led by OECD/NEA.

In their board meeting the 24th of April, IFE’s board of directors discussed the preliminary report of the strategic review. The strategic review concludes that further reactor operation will require substantially increased financial funding and guarantees in excess of what IFE is able to provide. On this basis, IFE’s board decided to initiate a discussion with the Norwegian government regarding future funding of the nuclear operations at IFE, including the process and financing of decommissioning of the Halden reactor. Following these discussions, IFE’s board will meet again on 27th of June to make a final decision about the way forward for the Halden reactor.

IFE and Norway remain strongly committed to the Halden Project, and IFE would therefore like to investigate the possibility for reshaping the OECD Halden Reactor Project, particularly the Fuels & Materials part, to continue also in the event that operation of the Halden reactor is discontinued.

Functional problems with the first isolation valve

In March, IFE informed that we encountered a functional problem with a valve of the Halden reactor during a scheduled maintenance inspection. The valve is the first isolation valve in the water phase downstream the reactor vessel and is classified as an Asme Class 1 valve.

The valve malfunctioning means that it is not possible to fully close the water flow through the valve. There are no leaks to the exterior. However, reactor operations cannot be resumed until valve functionality has been fully restored, which will require replacement of the valve. In addition, an extensive root cause analysis has to be carried out in order to determine the reason for the valve malfunctioning. IFEs operating permit has been revoked by the NRPA until a full safety case for the valve repair has been reviewed and accepted by the regulator.

Prior to the valve malfunctioning, IFE had planned to restart the HBWR medio April. Updated quotes from suppliers now indicate an expected delivery schedule of 12-15 months for a replacement valve.  The extensive root cause analysis, safety assessments and risk analysis will also take months. As such, the Halden reactor is expected to remain shut down until mid-2019 based on present information.

The situation will affect the ongoing 2018-2020 Fuels & Materials program as well as bilateral projects requiring irradiation in the Halden reactor. IFE assures that we are doing our outmost to handle the situation as efficient as possible, within the HBWR license condition and safety regulations.