What are research reactors?

Nuclear technology is better known for its application in electricity production than for its other uses, which include research. Not only from the point of view of development, education, and training but also from the production of neutrons which are used in industry, medicine, agriculture, forensic science, etc.

Research reactors are a versatile tool for testing materials and promoting scientific research, as well as for developing and producing radioactive materials that are essential for establishing diagnostics and, in some cases, treating diseases.

There is a wide variety of research reactor designs and an even wider range of applications that offer socio-economic benefits to help countries around the world achieve their sustainable development goals.

For more than 60 years, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), 841 research reactors have been built in 70 countries, of which 223 are in operation (in 54 countries) and 23 are under construction (in 23 countries).

But what are they really?

They are small, low-power reactors, mainly used to produce neutrons, as opposed to larger, more powerful nuclear reactors, which are generally used to produce electricity.

In comparison, research reactors are simpler in design, operate at lower temperatures, require much less fuel and therefore generate much less waste.

The power output of research reactors is designated in watts, in particular in megawatts (MW), taking into account that 1 MW is equivalent to 1 million watts. The power output of these reactors ranges from watts, such as a critical assembly (*) to 200 MW. Most commonly, it is less than 1 MW.

(*) A system for the multiplication of neutrons, which is self-sustaining and controllable, capable of modification, and composed of fissionable and other materials used in nuclear technology.

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