European Sodium Fast Reactor - Safety by Innovative Monitoring, Power Level flexibility and Experimental research (ESFR-SIMPLE)


ESFR-SIMPLE is a Euratom-funded research project whose objective is to develop an innovative design for a 4th generation nuclear reactor: a small modular (SMR) sodium fast reactor (SFR). This technology could potentially provide concrete answers to a series of challenges faced by the European energy system. Indeed, it brings promises of lower costs, the possibility of using spent fuel from conventional power plants, and greater modularity and flexibility in an electricity grid where the share of renewable energy is increasing. Thus, beyond the obvious engineering challenge, it also appears essential to assess to what extent these technology developments will effectively meet the future needs of populations without making compromises on safety issues.

ESFR-SIMPLE is a continuation of the ESFR-SMART project, which aimed at designing a high-power European SFR (ESFR). Hence, project partners will now work on the design of a smaller ESFR while addressing a series of technical challenges such as the design of a new core, the simplification of the secondary cooling system, and the use of artificial intelligence for monitoring purposes. The project also has a societal dimension in that it aims to create a dialogue between the actors involved in the development of this innovative technology and the people who are directly concerned by its development (local communities, policy-makers, and end-users).


The objectives of ESFR-SIMPLE are the following:

  1. Rethink the ESFR with a focus on simplification, cost reduction, and a reduction in reactor size. This effort should result in an economical design characterized by greater transportability, modularity, and operational flexibility than current plants.
  2. Evaluate alternative metallic fuels and design a compact secondary cooling system that balances costs and safety.
  3. Develop and evaluate advanced monitoring methods by using artificial intelligence to optimize anomaly detection.
  4. Generate new experimental data to contribute to the design of innovative components (thermoelectric pumps, expansion bellows, core-catcher, etc.).
  5. Disseminate the knowledge generated by the project and foster a form of exchange between the stakeholders involved in the development of this technology and the populations concerned by its development with the help of a participatory design.

It is through an ambitious research project that the SPIRAL research center will specifically tackle this last objective. First, the ULiège team will aim at identifying project partners’ perceptions and expectations regarding the development of a sodium fast SMR. Then, researchers will seek to identify the perceptions and expectations of the populations concerned by these technology developments (local communities, end-users, decision-makers) in order to evaluate to what extent these tend to conflict or concord with project partners’. Relying on a participatory approach, the research will also study the way in which innovation actors adjust (or not) their technological ambitions according to a regular feedback of the results obtained by the researchers. This research will be based on a vast qualitative data collection effort (using interviews, focus groups, observation) among project stakeholders and the concerned populations in France and in Great Britain. A cross-analysis of these two contrasting cases should allow to formulate a series of social, political and ethical recommendations for the future development of sodium fast SMRs.


The project partners are:

  • Commissariat à l’énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives (CEA)
  • Electricité de France (EDF)
  • Agenzia nazionale per le nuove technologie, l’energia e lo sviluppo economico sostenible (ENEA)
  • Framatome
  • Latvijas universitate (IPUL)
  • Helmholtz-zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR)
  • Karlsruher institut fuer technologie (KIT)
  • Université de Lorraine (LEMTA)
  • Le centre de recherche SPIRAL de l’université de Liège (ULiège)
  • Politecnico di Milano (POLIMI)
  • Slovenska technicka univerzita v Bratislave (STUBA)
  • University of Cambridge (UCAM)
  • Paul Scherrer institut (PSI)
  • École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL)
  • Uchicago Argonne LLC (ANL)
  • Joint research centre european commission (JRC)

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