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The Whereabouts of the AVR Fuel Spheres

According to information from the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Versuchsreaktor GmbH (AVR), a total of 290,705 fuel spheres were used in the high-temperature reactor which it operated from 1967 to 1988. Since 1972, AVR GmbH has tansferred fuel spheres to Forschungszentrum Jülich. All of the fissionable material that Forschungszentrum Jülich has accepted from AVR GmbH is stored in its entirety in Jülich's intermediate storage facility. It has been comprehensively documented and reports are sent to Euratom and the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Energy, Building, Housing and Transport of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia (regulatory authority) on a monthly basis. Four times a year (when the AVR reactor was in operation, six to eight times a year), Euratom conducts on-site inspections at Jülich.

The physical inventory comprises the following:

  • Forschungszentrum Jülich currently has 152 Castor containers in interim storage containing 288,161 intact spent fuel spheres (plus 124 absorber spheres, which do not contain nuclear fuel) from the neighbouring high-temperature reactor operated by AVR GmbH.

The other 2,544 fuel spheres can be accounted for as follows:

  • According to AVR GmbH, the reactor vessel of the decommissioned reactor contains a small number of sphere fragments.
  • There is also a small number of defective, whole, spent fuel elements from the AVR reactor in the hot cells at Forschungszentrum Jülich.
  • Furthermore, when the AVR high-temperature reactor was in operation, numerous spent fuel spheres were examined for a variety of research purposes. These fuel spheres, which account for the majority of the 2,544 fuel spheres, were destroyed either during or after the examinations and subsequently encased in cement in 200-litre containers. In such a condition, they are no longer considered fuel elements but are treated as intermediate level waste, which is in interim storage at Forschungszentrum Jülich. As a result, the number of spheres is no longer documented; instead the volume of nuclear fuel is then recorded.
  • This also applies to sphere fragments from the high-temperature reactor handed over by AVR GmbH to Forschungszentrum Jülich, which were likewise encased in cement for safe storage and will be stored at Jülich as intermediate level waste until the Konrad repository is ready to accept such waste.

The physical inventory of the nuclear fuel stored at Jülich including the fragmented spheres encased in cement is documented right down to the last milligram.

Spent fuel spheres from the AVR power operation were not transferred to Asse.

In the period 1968 to 1978, Forschungszentrum Jülich transferred a total of 13,325 packages of radioactive waste to Asse. Only eight of these packages contained weak and intermediate test fuel elements that were not used in the AVR reactor. They were subjected to neutron radiation for research purposes, as during this time, Jülich was working on the development of nuclear fuels and fuel elements. Furthermore, these packages also contain "absorber spheres". These spheres are made of graphite and do not contain any nuclear fuel. Everything that Forschungszentrum Jülich transferred to Asse was registered and approved. All of this information was also submitted to the Federal Office for Radiation Protection and the commission of inquiry of the State Parliament of Lower Saxony.

The government of North Rhine-Westphalia is aware of all of these circumstances.

Press contact:

Dr. Anne Rother
Tel.: +49 2461 61-4661