Safe and efficient
The MYRRHA research infrastructure is the first prototype in the world of a subcritical reactor driven by a particle accelerator. In this unique configuration known as an Accelerator Driven System (ADS), the “subcritical” reactor core is characterized by the fact that there is insufficient fissile material to spontaneously maintain the fission chain reaction. It must therefore be continuously fed by an external neutron source: a particle accelerator.
By using a particle accelerator in order to generate the external source, nuclear reactions within the reactor can be easily controlled. This innovative technology is therefore safe and easy to control: by switching off the particle accelerator, the chain reaction stops in a fraction of a second and the reactor immediately shuts down.
In contrast to traditional reactors, a liquid metal mixture of lead and bismuth (not water) is used as the coolant. This mixture has the advantage of not slowing down the fission neutrons. MYRRHA is therefore classified as a “fast reactor”. Thanks to these fast neutrons, the fuel (uranium) is used more efficiently in the reactor, which considerably reduces the volume of radioactive waste.
Materials testing, whether this involves structural materials or fuel, is essential to guarantee and improve the safety of current and future nuclear reactors. For over 50 years, SCK•CEN has been testing nuclear materials by subjecting them to a high thermal neutron flux in its BR2 research reactor.
MYRRHA offers the opportunity to continue testing current materials and to study new materials for the next generations of both fission reactors and nuclear fusion reactors. MYRRHA will go even further thanks to its fast neutrons, in particular close to the spallation target, which enables irradiation conditions much closer to those of a fusion reactor than is the case with current research reactors. In addition to structural materials testing, MYRRHA will be used to classify fuel elements to be used in the new generation of fast reactors.
Radioisotopes are used in nuclear medicine for the diagnosis and treatment of certain diseases, including cancer. The most commonly used medical radioisotope is technetium-99m (99mTC), which is formed by the decay of molybdenum-99 (99Mo). It is used in around 80% of diagnostic tests, which means 30 million tests per year worldwide.
Only six reactors in the world are equipped to produce this type of medical radioisotope, including the SCK•CEN BR2 research reactor. Every year the BR2 produces over 25% of the global demand for medical radioisotopes, and even up to 65% in the case of heavy demand. Nearly 7 million tests are therefore carried out every year thanks to the Belgian production. In Europe, over 700,000 healthcare professionals use nuclear medicine on a daily basis.
To guarantee global supply in the face of constantly increasing demand, MYRRHA will produce theranostic radioisotopes (for therapeutic treatment and diagnosis). MYRRHA will also develop new types of therapeutic product capable of better targeting the areas to be treated and therefore considerably reducing the side effects for patients.
Would you like to be part of making this innovative and challenging research installation a reality? We need bright people with a scientific, operational and international background who are full of enthusiasm and who believe in the future of what we are doing. Join the MYRRHA team!