This week, the U.S. Congress received for review a renewal agreement for nuclear energy cooperation with Norway. When the pact comes into force, it will restore nuclear cooperation that lapsed when the original agreement expired in July 2014. Commonly known as a Section 123 agreement after the part of the Atomic Energy Act that governs international nuclear energy cooperation, a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement secures nonproliferation guarantees and provides a framework for nuclear energy commerce.
Given that Norway has no plans to operate a commercial nuclear power plant, some may ask, “What is the importance of Norway to the U.S. nuclear industry?”
The answer lies 75 miles southeast of Oslo in the town of Halden, where the United States helped to build a 20 megawatt test reactor in 1958. Now supported by 19 member countries and partly financed by the OECD, the Halden Reactor Project performs a wide variety of unique tests that are important to nuclear power plant safety and reliability. Currently it hosts 30 test rigs in its core. The users of the Halden Reactor Project span the range of the nuclear community, from licensing and regulatory bodies to suppliers, utility industry and research organizations.
For the U.S. nuclear industry, the Halden Reactor Project is a critical asset. As examples:
- A joint U.S. DOE program with Westinghouse, GE Hitachi and AREVA to research, develop and test accident tolerant fuel (ATF) relies on access to Halden. The program aims to significantly increase the reaction time for a commercial nuclear reactor operator to deal with beyond-design-basis events such as occurred at Three Mile Island and at Fukushima. The ATF program will send test rodlets manufactured in the United States by General Atomics and Argonne National Laboratory to Halden for testing after the program’s first phase ends in September of this year.
- Virginia-based Lightbridge plans to use the Halden Reactor Project for irradiation testing of advanced metallic nuclear fuel samples. The Lightbridge fuel design aims to provide greater safety and power while lengthening the fuel cycle duration. "These irradiation tests will generate quantifiable data needed to support licensing of Lightbridge fuel by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and ultimate deployment by nuclear utilities in commercial reactors around the world,” said Lightbridge CEO Seth Grae.
- The Halden facility is favored not just for fuel safety testing. Of special value to the U.S. operating fleet, it offers flexible capabilities for testing the aging and degradation of reactor components. Aging issues under study at Halden include irradiation-assisted stress corrosion cracking, irradiation-enhanced creep and stress relaxation, and pressure vessel integrity.
The Halden Reactor Project underscores the importance of broad international collaboration to U.S. industry competitiveness in an increasingly global market. With congressional approval, the U.S.-Norway Section 123 agreement will preserve this important advantage for the whole U.S. nuclear community.