Officially launched during its kickoff meeting in Brussels on 5-6 September 2017, the European Horizon 2020 CORTEX project will last 48 months with a total budget of almost €5 500 000. The project is coordinated by CHALMERS University in Sweden and gathers 20 partners from 11 countries from across Europe.

Real-time monitoring of a reactor’s condition is critical for the safe and reliable operation of nuclear power plants. This allows to detect possible anomalies early on and to take the proper actions promptly.

In the future, this will represent an increasingly important challenge. Over 60% of the current fleet of nuclear reactors is composed of units that are more than 30 years old. As a result, operational problems are expected to be more frequent. In addition, the conservatism previously applied to the evaluation of safety parameters has been greatly reduced, thanks to the increased level of fidelity achieved by the current tools modelling the behaviour of nuclear reactors. Therefore, nuclear reactors are now operating more closely to their safety limits. Operational problems may be also accentuated by other factors, such as the use of advanced high-burnup fuel designs and core loadings.

Aiming to develop innovative techniques for improved reactor safety

CORTEX aims to address these challenges by developing an innovative core monitoring technique that allows to detect anomalies in nuclear reactors, such as excessive vibrations of core internals, flow blockage, coolant inlet perturbations, etc. The technique will be mainly based on using the inherent fluctuations in neutron flux recorded by in-core and ex-core instrumentation, from which the anomalies will be differentiated depending on their type, location and characteristics. The method is non-intrusive and does not require any external perturbation of the system.

The project will result in a deepened understanding of the physical processes involved. This will allow utilities to detect operational problems at a very early stage and to take the proper actions before such issues have any adverse effect on plant safety and reliability. With an ageing fleet of nuclear reactors utilising more challenging fuel assembly designs, core loadings, and operating more often in load-follow, new operational problems have been observed during the last decade and will become more frequent in the future. Through the detection and characterisation of anomalies, the availability of nuclear-generated electricity will be further improved.

The outputs of CORTEX will contribute to reducing the CO2 footprint and impact on the environment, and to a higher availability of cheap base-load electricity to consumers. Implementing this technique in the existing fleet of reactors will have a major impact, and can also be applied to future reactor types and designs.

Concept of CORTEX: representation of the radial layout of a boiling water reactor, with fuel assemblies as squares and neutron detector strings as crosses.

In order to develop a method that can reach a high Technology Readiness Level, the consortium was strategically structured around the required core expertise from all of the necessary actors in the nuclear industry, both within and outside Europe. The broad expertise of the consortium members ensures the successful development of new in-situ monitoring techniques.

A European project

Project partners at the kickoff meeting in Brussels

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