Research reactors continue to play an irreplaeable role in the development of science, technology and medicine. They offer a diverse range of applications, such as neutron beam research for material studies and non-destructive examination, neutron activation analysis to measure minute quantities of elements, radioisotope production for medical and industrial use, neutron irradiation for materials testing for fission and fusion reactors, neutron transmutation doping of silicon and gemstone coloration. Since many are based at universities and dedicated research institutions, research reactors have also established a considerable legacy in the education and training of science and engineering students, operators and maintenance staff of nuclear power plants and facilities, radiation protection personnel and regulatory personnel.
For nuclear research and technology development to continue to prosper, research reactors must be safely and reliably operated, efficiently utilised, refurbished when necessary, provided with adequate non-proliferating fuel cycle services and safely decommissioned at the end of life. Even though many research reactors are not used at their full capacity and many older ones will be shut down and subsequently decommissioned, research reactors will continue to play a very important role in the coming decades. In this respect, a number of Member States with little or no experience in this domain have recently built or are building new research reactors.
The IAEA supports the utilization of facilities consistent with their capabilities and objectives, international networks of research reactors in its Member States, sharing of research reactor resources to assist in the development of state of the art facilities, thus helping in socioeconomic development and making research reactors better utilized, modernized, more sustainable, safer and more secure. The assistance and support of the Agency is provided through a number of actions and activities such as:
Coordinated Research Projects
Technical Cooperation projects
Support of research reactor networks and coalitions
Meetings, workshops and conferences
Publication of state-of-the-art technical documents, guidelines, brochures
Development of e-learning courses on specific research reactor applications
- Case studies
Responsibility for research reactor utilization lies with the IAEA Physics Section.