Now more than 20 years old, the International Project on Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles (INPRO) still has a key role to play in the future of the industry
Twenty years after it was established, Brian Boyer discusses the future of the International Project on Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles (INPRO) with Nuclear Engineering International (NEI) magazine.
Brian Boyer is the section head of the International Project on Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles (INPRO) at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s department of nuclear energy. He has spent more than two decades as a safeguards expert in various roles, prior to which he was a nuclear engineer in safety analysis at Brookhaven National Laboratory.
Here, he speaks about the activities and accomplishments of INPRO, and the project’s role in supporting global nuclear power development.
Q&A with Brian Boyer, section head of INPRO at the IAEA
NEI: The International Project on Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycles (INPRO) project began 20 years ago. Why was it established?
Nuclear energy has become an important energy supply option in a world that has to meet increasing energy needs while also reducing CO2 emissions. Innovation is of the determining features that will sustain a successful nuclear industry.
Also, long term and strategic planning is needed to ensure the sustainability of nuclear energy as a source of energy supply in the 21st century. Both could be best achieved through international cooperation.
Several International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) member states recognised the need to take action to ensure that nuclear energy would develop and deploy in a sustainable manner. International cooperation and information exchange on innovation in nuclear reactors and fuel cycles would best achieve this goal.
In September 2000, the IAEA general conference invited “all interested member states to combine their efforts under the aegis of the agency in considering the issues of the nuclear fuel cycle, in particular by examining innovative and proliferation resistant nuclear technologies”.
In response to a resolution by the 44th general conference, INPRO was established as a membership-based project to support efforts leading to long-term sustainability of nuclear energy.
It provides a forum for experts and policymakers to discuss and cooperate on such issues as the sustainable planning, development and deployment of nuclear energy and promote a mutually-beneficial dialogue between countries that have developed nuclear technology and countries that consider using these technologies.
What are the benefits of INPRO membership?
INPRO currently has 42 members — 41 IAEA member states and the European Commission (EC). In 2020, Ghana, a nuclear newcomer, announced its intention to join INPRO and is in the application process now.
IAEA member states benefit from international cooperation and dialogue facilitated by INPRO. They have access to international expertise related to innovative nuclear reactors and fuel cycles and issues of nuclear energy sustainability. They can participate in, and contribute to, INPRO collaborative projects and technical meetings.
INPRO members are also represented in the INPRO steering committee. The results and findings of INPRO studies, as well as INPRO tools, models, training activities and publications are available to all member states.
Experts from all countries can participate in INPRO dialogue forums focusing on topics such as partnerships for nuclear development and deployment, opportunities and challenges in small modular reactors (SMRs) and opportunities in non-electric applications of nuclear energy.
Could you outline INPRO’s current activities and describe how its work has changed in the past 20 years
The activities of INPRO are derived from the UN (Brundtland) concept of sustainable development: “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” – with a focus on economics, safety, security, environmental impact, non-proliferation and effective national and international infrastructures.
These became the assessment areas of the INPRO methodology – a holistic, comprehensive approach to assess an existing or planned nuclear energy system and decide whether it would provide a sustainable energy supply in the long term.
INPRO has helped countries assess national nuclear energy strategies for sustainability, chart scenarios for medium- and long-term deployment of advanced and innovative nuclear energy systems at national, regional and global levels, and undertaken technological and institutional studies related to innovative nuclear reactors and fuel cycles.
Issues of nuclear energy innovation and sustainability have been discussed in INPRO dialogue forums between technology developers, users and other stakeholders.
The current activities of INPRO focus on:
- Global scenarios: Since 2011, INPRO has focused on developing global and regional nuclear energy scenarios, developing and utilising scientific-technical analysis tools that lead to a global vision of sustainable nuclear energy development in the current century and beyond.
- Innovations: Investigating innovative nuclear energy technologies and institutional arrangements that support development of sustainable nuclear energy this century.
- Sustainability Assessments and Strategies: Assisting member states in developing sustainable, long-range national nuclear energy strategies and deployment decision-making.
- Dialogue and Outreach: Providing an international venue for member states’ guidance, policy coordination and coordination with other international organisations and initiatives, bringing together technology holders and users to exchange ideas and information on long-range nuclear energy system strategies, global nuclear energy scenarios, and related technical and institutional innovations. INPRO also develops and implements outreach and training activities in support of services provided by the INPRO section to member states.
In March, you published an ‘INPRO Methodology for Sustainability Assessment of Nuclear Energy Systems: Safety of Nuclear Fuel Cycle Facilities’. How do you see it being used?
Safety is one of the assessment areas in the INPRO methodology.
This publication provides guidance for assessing the sustainability of nuclear fuel cycle facilities (NFCFs) that may be involved in mining, milling, refining, conversion, enrichment, fuel fabrication, spent fuel storage, and spent fuel reprocessing.
It augments the information presented in the earlier INPRO publications on the methodology for sustainability assessments. The publication is intended for use by organisations involved in development and deployment, including planning, design, modification and technical support.
The latest update of the methodology, including significant simplification and restructuring, started in 2012, and seven of the nine INPRO manuals have been updated and published in the IAEA Nuclear Series or as IAEA technical reports, including IAEA TECDOC 1903, on Safety of NFC facilities.
INPRO dialogue forums have covered a range of topics – have any of these related to the nuclear fuel cycle?
INPRO dialogue forum on cooperative approaches to the Back End of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle: Drivers and Legal, Institutional and Financial Impediments (2015), in Vienna, had a fuel cycle focus.
Of 17 past dialogue forums at least eight others touched on fuel cycle issues. Our next dialogue forum on partnerships for nuclear development and deployment will need to stress not just reactors but the entire fuel cycle as part of partnerships for successful collaboration.
INPRO has a number of collaborative projects. Could you describe how these work. How many have been completed and how many are still ongoing?
INPRO collaborative projects directly involve INPRO members and support development of tools, models and publications used in INPRO services and training events. Collaborative projects are proposed by, and carried out with, active participation of experts from INPRO member countries.
The first projects began in 2006, now 15 have concluded and five are ongoing. Each project usually runs for two to four years.
How many collaborative INPRO projects have involved aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle?
Eight projects under INPRO’s Global Scenarios task span the entire nuclear fuel cycle:
- Global Architecture of Innovative Nuclear Energy Systems based on thermal and fast reactors including closed fuel cycle
- Key Indicators for Innovative Nuclear Energy Systems
- Comparative Evaluation of Nuclear Energy System Options (CENESO)
- Analysis Support for Enhanced Nuclear Energy Sustainability (ASENES)
- ASENES SMR
- ASENES Fast Forward (fast reactors and related fuel cycles)
- Roadmaps for a Transition to Globally Sustainable Nuclear Energy Systems
- Synergistic Nuclear Energy Regional Group Interactions Evaluated for Sustainability
It should be noted that the ASENES service works as a trigger for new INPRO collaborative projects, such as “sustainable deployment scenarios for small modular reactors” (ASENES SMR) and the newly branded ASENES Step Forward (fast reactors and related fuel cycles) which shall succeed ASENES Fast Forward.
This application of ASENES is the sole means for INPRO to ensure correct application of all of our methods and tools by member states by implementing a thorough internal and external reviews of the resulting major agency publications.
Two methodology projects — Proliferation Resistance: Acquisition/Diversion Pathway Analysis and Proliferation Resistance and Safeguardability Assessment — are providing input to a robust definition of proliferation resistance for reactors and fuel cycle facilities and activities as part of updating the INPRO Methodology.
A completed project on Further Investigation of the Thorium Fuel Cycles looked at opportunities to use thorium.
At the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle, the two on-going projects are Waste from Innovative Types of Reactors and Fuel Cycles; and Comparative Approaches to the Back End of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle: Drivers and Institutional, Economic and Legal Impediments.
Projects that examine gaps in fuel cycle and institutional management lead to solutions in handling spent fuel and wastes from innovative reactors and fuel cycles.
How has your co-operation with Generation IV International Forum (GIF) developed?
Recognising the complementary nature of their organisations, and the potential for creating synergies in nuclear technology development, INPRO and the Generation IV International Forum (GIF) have been holding regular coordination meetings since 2003.
INPRO experts are represented at the GIF policy group and GIF working groups on risk and safety, proliferation resistance and physical protection, and evaluation modelling. By 2020, 14 interface meetings had been held exploring technical dialogue, coordination and cooperation.
Initially, joint activities were exclusively related to the INPRO and technical areas covered by the IAEA Nuclear Power Technology Development Section, but they evolved to include nuclear safety, security and safeguards (the safeguards-by-design working group), economics and education.
What have been INPRO’s most important achievements and most difficult challenges in the past 20 years?
Among the major achievements is developing and applying the INPRO methodology to support member states in Nuclear Energy Sustainability Assessments (NESAs). To date, 14 member states have conducted 18 national and international NESAs.
As a service package for INPRO members, NESA delivered a mechanism to improve national capacity in sustainability assessment and planning.
For example, Indonesia has used INPRO sustainability assessment studies as a key part of its nuclear capacity building. Indonesia undertook a NESA with INPRO in 2011-2014 for a large PWR, which informed national decision making. Indonesia is now completing a SMR NESA, with a fuel cycle study looming in 2021-2024.
Belarus is another success as it completed a NESA in 2013, which was helpful in informing the national nuclear energy programme that resulted in two new nuclear reactor builds.
Under the work on global scenarios, INPRO developed four comprehensive scenario analysis and decision support tools named MESSAGE-NES, NEST, KIND-ET and ROADMAPS-ET. INPRO is packaging them in the INPRO Service Analysis Support for Enhanced Nuclear Energy Sustainability (ASENES) for INPRO members and interested countries.
The ASENES service is available to member states either for self-study through an e-learning course in English and in Russian, as instructor-assisted distance training, or as face-to-face comprehensive user training, including at annual INPRO schools.
It facilitates capacity building in member states to strengthen the competence and skills of national experts for evaluating alternative nuclear energy technologies and collaboration, and for formulating strategic plans.
17 INPRO dialogue forums on global nuclear energy sustainability topics have been held, including in recent years countries that have developed nuclear programmes or embarking on or considering nuclear for the first time. The dialogue forum also created an opportunity for representatives of member states and other international organisations to coordinate their programmes.
INPRO has had four dialogue forums so far on SMRs.
How do you see INPRO developing?
The primary mandate for INPRO, in accordance with the general conference resolutions, is to support efforts leading to the long-term sustainability of nuclear energy.
INPRO is working with the rest of the IAEA to look at issues of nuclear power deployment with advanced reactors (especially SMRs), outreach and training. It is moving to engage universities in new ways, and to build integrated power system modelling capability as a service to member states.
This article first appeared in Nuclear Engineering International magazine