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Reactor operators exchange their experiences: Isar nuclear power plant experts visit FRM II
The expert group on its way to the reactor hall. Taking a look into the reactor pool is not possible at the Isar nuclear power plant. © FRM II
If the fuel element is the heart of the reactor, then the control room is its brain. It is where the reactor operators sit monitoring and controlling all processes. In September, reactor operators and shift supervisors of the Isar nuclear power plant (KKI) visited the research neutron source Heinz Maier-Leibnitz (FRM II) to exchange information with their colleagues on site.
Hardly anyone else gets so deep into the interior of FRM II: During a guided tour of the Research Neutron Source, the 13 experts were able to visit the reactor pool and the control room of FRM II. They all were trained in the simulator centre of KSG Kraftwerks-Simulator-Gesellschaft mbH and GfS Gesellschaft für Simulatorschulung mbH in Essen , where they receive their licence as reactor operators after two years of training. Only after several years of professional experience is the step to become shift supervisor possible.
The Technical Director of FRM II, Dr. Axel Pichlmaier, welcomed the guests and gave a lecture on safety and operation of the reactor. The following guided tour through the neutron source was given by the shift supervisors Konrad Höglauer and Adolf Lochinger as well as three new reactor operators of FRM II who have just passed their exams in Essen: Benjamin Schweiger, Mergim Hasanaj and Derya Aydogdu.
Not all reactors are the same
The two nuclear installations have stark contrasts to one another: While the FRM II as a research neutron source has only one highly enriched fuel element, the KKI conceals 193 fuel elements. However, these are all only low enriched. Of course, this reflects their different purposes: The FRM II is reserved for science and supplies neutrons for research, industry and medicine. The KKI, on the other hand, was built for commercial power generation.
Visiting the control room of FRM II, at the workplace of the reactor operators. © FRM II
The differences invite curiosity and so the experts of the KKI and the FRM II were able to exchange views on many topics. For example, how is heavy water purified in each case? How is the decay heat used? However, the questions were not only of a technical nature. The reactor operators also asked practical questions about the operating manual – where are the differences? Is it available in digital or paper form?
The guests showed particular interest in the irradiation facilities of the FRM II, especially about the versatile radioisotope production. The radioisotopes produced at FRM II are used in the form of radiopharmaceuticals for the diagnosis and therapy of tumor diseases.
0.0 megawatt, due to the pandemic, the reactor is currently not supplying neutrons for science, industry and medicine. © FRM II
Current topics: Shutdown, decommissioning, conversion
Current topics were not left unaddressed. The experts of the KKI asked about the enrichment of the fuel elements at FRM II and the status of the conversion to lower enriched uranium .
Conversely, the hosts inquired about the decommissioning of the KKI. The Isar power plant will be shut down at the end of 2022. What then does the future hold for the reactor operators?
More information on this and on the upcoming dismantling of the KKI will be provided at the next exchange of experts in 2021.