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The first International Conference on Fast Reactors and Related Fuel Cycles (FR09) was held in Kyoto, Japan, in 2009 and was subtitled “Challenges and Opportunities”. The second conference (FR13) was held in Paris, France, in 2013 with the theme “Safe Technologies and Sustainable Scenarios” and was attended by some 700 experts from 27 countries and 4 international organizations representing different fields of fast reactor and related fuel cycle technologies. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) now proposes, almost four years later, to bring the fast reactor and related fuel cycle community together again. The Russian Federation’s State Atomic Energy Corporation “Rosatom” has proposed to host the conference in Yekaterinburg, Russian Federation. One of the main reasons for this proposed venue is that the sodium cooled fast reactor BN-800 was connected to the grid in December 2015 at the Beloyarsk nuclear power plant (NPP), which is located in the vicinity of Yekaterinburg. BN-800 is a successor of the BN-600 reactor that has been in operation at the Beloyarsk NPP since 1980.
The nuclear industry has from its inception recognized the important role of fast reactors and related fuel cycles in ensuring the long term sustainability of nuclear power. Fast reactors operated in a closed fuel cycle help to improve the utilization of resources — both fissile and fertile materials — used in nuclear fuels. This improvement is possible because fast reactors can breed fissile materials and, using modern fuel cycle technologies, recycle materials bred in these reactors. In this way, fast reactors and related fuel cycle technologies can make an enormous contribution to the sustainability of nuclear energy production. They have the potential to produce a hundred times more energy from natural uranium resources. At the same time, fast neutrons favour fission of heavy atoms, instead of capture, so they can also be used to transmute minor actinides, thereby reducing the demands on geological repositories for the final disposal of nuclear waste.
Many countries are actively developing reactor, coolant, fuel and fuel cycle technologies. Reactor technologies under development include sodium- , lead- , gas-, molten salt- and even supercritical water-cooled systems and technologies and accelerator-driven systems. In parallel, several demonstration projects, ranging from small to large scale, are under study or construction.
For such nuclear energy systems to become viable for industrial deployment in the coming decades, designers will have to increase their level of safety in order to gain public acceptance. Harmonization of safety standards at the international level could play a leading role in achieving these goals.