Budapest Research Reactor: +10 years

Sat, 12/16/2023

The BNC research reactor was issued a 10 years extension of operation licence until 15 December 2033 by the National Atomic Energy Authority. This paves the way towards modernisation of the BNC instrument and research infrastructure. On this occasion, dr. Ákos Horváth, director general of the Centre for Energy Research addressed a year-end message to the staff.

Dear Colleagues,

On Friday, 15 December, the National Atomic Energy Agency issued its decision granting the operational status of the Research Reactor
license for another ten years, until December 15, 2033. This is an important achievement.

The decision is not only the conclusion of our work of the past years, but also the beginning of future tasks. Simultaneously with issuing the mentioned decision, the Periodic Safety Review (due every ten years) was also concluded and prescribed a number of obligations and tasks, the fulfillment of which appears as conditions of the operation in the licence. Many of our colleagues have worked towards this licence so far, even more of us will work on theseissues from 2024 on. But, in the meantime, we will have a few days rest and think about how to proceed.

The Research Reactor has been operating since 1959 and its history has been closely intertwined with the development of KFKI. In its present form the Research Reactor was designed during the reconstruction during the years 1986-92. Following the reconstruction it started operation in 1993 with a 30-year operation license, which was extended last Friday by the Authority for another ten years. At the time of restart, the Budapest Neutron Center (BNC) was established to organize R+D and international user operation. That time BNC was formed as a consortium of the then independent scientific institutes on our campus. In 2020, the staff of the Laboratory of Neutron Spectroscopy (NSL) of Wigner Research Centre joined the EK, so BNC has now ceased to be a consortium, but as a tribute to its thirty years successful operation we kept the world-wide established brand name. (See the September 2019 issue of
Fizikai Szemle

At present, BNC consists of two major laboratories, the Laboratory of Neutron Spectroscopy and the Laboratory of Nuclear Analysis and Radiography.

In 2020, we managed to procure fuel, which, according to today's calculations upon the assumed operating conditions and yearly duration of the reactor operation, will be sufficient until 2027. The fuel cost and the expenses associated with extending the operating licence exceed the financial capabilities of EK, therefore the last ten years, with varying intensity, were also about the search for additional resources. In 2014 - within the framework of the starting National Nuclear Research Program - we prepared a vision study of a joint future of the BNC Research Reactor and the Training Reactor of the Budapest University of Technology. (see e.g. this article). Among the goals of the study there appeared R+D and educational action plans towards the Paks2 nuclear power plant investment. Unfortunately, no permanent structure has been created at governmental level, in which these action plans would have been taken care of / implemented.

From time to time, another project was started: e.g. Paks2 Academy, nuclear education action plan, Nuclear materials science development (in Dunaújváros), Energy Innovation Council, but these seem to be isolated actions in retrospect. Interestingly, the recent energy crisis, and the subsequent increased interest in extending the operational life of the Paks Nuclear Power Plant, as well as plans for the development of small modular power plants gaining traction worldwide, have provided new impetus to efforts aimed at retaining domestic nuclear expertise in Hungary. In 2022, the then Ministry of Innovation and Technology (ITM), now the Energy Ministry (EM), initiated a project to extend the operating time of the Paks Nuclear Power Plant. As part of this initiative, the Hungarian Atomic Energy Authority (EK) and the Institute of Nuclear Technique, Budapest University of Technology and Economics (BME NTI) were also consulted to articulate their needs in support of the project. This dialogue continued in 2023 with the involvement of the new president of the Hungarian Research Network. We anticipate gaining clearer insights soon; however, at present, we have compelling reasons to believe that the Ministry of Energy will be receptive to our ideas. A collaborative planning effort for the nuclear future of Hungary is scheduled to commence in January 2024 under the guidance of the Ministry of Energy. The discussion will involve key stakeholders, including the domestic nuclear industry, research and development entities, and educational institutions.

I trust/let us trust that we will reach further this time and that the next ten years will bring further success for the Research Reactor, the BNC and the entire Research Center!

Ákos Horváth