EUR 20mln Contract for the Birth of ATHENA Experimental Plant

As part of the research into lead-cooled reactors, the consortium including the premier Italian company in the civil nuclear sector Ansaldo Nucleare and Romania’s Reinvent Energy, has been awarded a contract worth approximately EUR 20 million for the design, procurement, installation, and commissioning service of the ATHENA experimental plant.

In an era of energy transition and on a path towards carbon neutrality, nuclear energy plays a fundamental role and in particular the implementation of 4th generation reactors. In this context, the research facilities that support technological development and, at the same time, the production of experimental data, are fundamental.

ATHENA experimental plant (i.e., Advanced Thermo-Hydraulics Experiment for Nuclear Application) is 2.21 MW pool-type facility housing 880 tons of liquid lead in a main vessel (3 meters in diameter by 10 meters in height). This facility will host scale components for testing and demonstration of Lead Fast Reactor technology, that is liquid lead refrigeration fast spectrum reactors.

The consortium is supported by ENEA (Italy) and SRS (Italy) for the conceptual and executive design of the technological part, as well as by ISPE (Romania) and Somet (Romania), respectively for the design of civil works and installation activities.

The project involves the construction of an electrical core-based simulator, a main pump, and a heat exchanger similar to the arrangement of the Advanced Lead-cooled Fast Reactor European Demonstrator system (ALFRED), the first project of a new generation nuclear reactor entirely conceived and managed by a pan-European community of researchers. The plant will also be equipped with a water-cooling circuit to ensure representative conditions on the secondary side of the heat exchanger. The main scientific objectives of ATHENA concern the research and development needs (e.g., chemistry control, lead/water interaction), as well as stationary and transient testing of thermohydraulic phenomena occurring during normal operation and accidental conditions of an LFR reactor.

“The ATHENA project will bring to light the largest facility in Europe for research on LFR technology,” said Luca Manuelli, CEO of Ansaldo Nucleare. “The experimental results produced will be a key to support the development of ALFRED in Romania and in Europe. In line with our NewClear vision, the collaboration between research centres and key industrial players will bridge the gap for faster deployment of advanced nuclear technologies with SMR characteristics, towards a cleaner, safer, and more sustainable role of nuclear in the European energy transition”.

“ATHENA experimental plant is the first step in a complex technological infrastructure through which the physics and engineering of the next generation of lead-cooled nuclear power plants will be better understood and validated,” said Catalin Ducu, general manager of RATEN-ICN. “ATHENA is a first milestone in the ambitious ALFRED infrastructure project and represents a great opportunity for the South-Muntenia region for the development of highly qualified Romanian professionals, as well as for the European research and development program.”

“The Romanian industry is deeply involved in this important project, so we are honoured to have this significant contribution. Together with our partners, we believe in a healthy green future, built with sustainability, quality, and innovation,” said Marius Gheorghiu, general manager of Reinvent Energy.

The project will be carried out over the course of approximately two years, with close collaboration between international and local companies. ATHENA experimental plant will be based at the RATEN-ICN research centre, near Pitesti, in the southern Sud-Muntenia region of Romania.


ALFRED: The Advanced Lead-cooled Fast Reactor European Demonstrator

  • No other advanced reactor technology can feature the same unique aspects
  • One of the most promising technologies for deployment in the SMR segment
  • Steadily increasing attention by industry and utilities worldwide
  • Recognized by inclusion in the research agendas at international level (GIF, ESNII)


Bridging the Final Gap Between Conducted Research and Industrial Application

The ALFRED demonstrator is a European project, included in the ESNII roadmap (European Sustainable Nuclear Industrial Initiative) as a first priority. This demonstrator for the innovative LFR technology (Lead-cooled Fast Reactor), a Gen IV reactor that aims to increase security levels, use resources more effectively, recycle fuel, reduce the volume and toxicity of waste, and be very competitive economically, is expected to be realized by 2028.

The installations will operate based on a technical, scientific and demonstration program developed under the supervision of the FALCON consortium, as well as that of other international partners with whom FALCON has signed agreements, to ensure optimal use of these installations through a synergic correlation of activities carried out by other laboratories, sustainable operation (through international integration) and by diligently following the aims of LFRs.


ALFRED, an opportunity for Romania: Key facts

PRO ALFRED project – Activities for the Preparation of the ALFRED Research Infrastructure Development in Romania was devoted to strengthening the Romanian capability for an increased national participation in the ALFRED Infrastructure implementation. Financed through the National RDI programme (PNCDI III) by the Romanian Ministry of Education and Research, PRO ALFRED project was launched in September 2019, under the coordination of RATEN (State Owned Company ‘Technology for Nuclear Energy’) with a duration of 15 months.

The ALFRED infrastructure includes 6 experimental installations (ATHENA, ChemLab, HELENA2, ELF, HandsOn, Meltin’Pot) and the ALFRED demonstration reactor. The experimental support facilities will serve to solve the open aspects of LFR technology, to test and qualify the ALFRED components and equipment, as well as to validate and verify the calculation tools/methodologies.

The implementation in Romania of the ALFRED infrastructure requires the synergistic involvement of research organizations, industry, and universities in the development of the LFR technology, while contributing to achieving the European Union’s objectives on nuclear excellence. That is why, the PRO ALFRED project brought together research institutes and universities from Romania with competences and activities in the nuclear field: Nuclear Research Institute – RATEN ICN Pitesti and Center of Technology and Engineering for Nuclear Projects – RATEN CITON, Bucharest (both RATEN’s branches); University of Pitesti – UPIT; University ‘Politehnica’ Bucharest – UPB; National Institute for Nuclear Physics and Engineering – Horia Hulubei, Bucharest – IFIN HH; Institute for Economic Prognosis, Bucharest – IPE.

By implementing the ALFRED infrastructure, Europe and Romania will benefit from a complex research capability, unique in the world, which will support the research, development, and qualification of the LFR technology, assuring for the European scientific community a remarkable position in the top of the nuclear field.

  • 2011, Romanian Government – Memorandum on the interest to host ALFRED
  • 2014, Memorandum ‘ALFRED construction in Romania’, 2014, approved by Government
  • 2014, Mioveni nuclear platform as reference site
  • 2015, ALFRED in Smart Specialization Strategy of South-Muntenia
  • 2016, ALFRED in National RDI Strategy, and National Energy Strategy
  • 2016: Letter of Support (ANCSI and scientific community)
  • 2017: National Strategy for RDI (2015-2020); Roadmap for Research Infrastructures in Romania for 2017-2025, Ministry of Research and Innovation; CESINA (academia), ROMATOM (nuclear industry) partnerships and NUCLEARELECTRICA agreement; ALFRED included in the Romania National Research and Innovation Plan 2015-2020
  • Nuclearelectrica and the FALCON Consortium have signed a Memorandum of Understanding regarding the cooperation for the development of the 4th Generation reactor, ALFRED
  • 2020: Contract signed for ATHENA and ChemLab construction; Integrated National Energy and Climate Change Plan (NECP) for 2021-2030 Romania

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