Head, Nuclear Power Technology Development
Stefano enters the nuclear industry (0:07)
0:07-5:24 (Stefano explains how he first got involved with the nuclear industry and his first job after university.)
Q. Where did you get your nuclear experience?
A. Stefano Monti developed his interest for nuclear while a high school student in the 1970s. At the time, Italy was engaged in the nuclear sector and had four power plants in operation. Italy also had a broad research and development (R&D) program, including focus on advanced technologies, and planned to produce 20 gigawatts of electricity from nuclear power. Stefano was attracted to the fact that the nuclear industry was always put in a European or global context, emphasizing international work. Stefano graduated from university in 1982 and then worked for Italy’s largest industrial nuclear company, which focused on developing and designing advanced reactors. Stefano was responsible for the shielding and neutronic design of the material test reactor with a fast neutron spectrum.
Fast reactors (5:25)
5:25-14:25 (Stefano discusses fast reactors, focusing on their coolants and the current fast reactors in operation.)
Q. Let’s talk about fast reactors. What coolant were you working with?
A. In fast reactors, neutrons are moving at faster speeds, and therefore behave differently in the reactor. Water can not be used to bring them to the thermal spectrum, so a different coolant must be used instead. Stefano was working on sodium-cooled fast reactors at the time. Sodium has been used for a while because the physics of sodium cooling is very well known and is less challenging than using other coolants. There are many characteristics to consider when choosing a coolant, the main one being how the neutrons interact with it. Sodium is a good coolant for fast reactors because they only slow neutrons slightly.
There are two industrial sodium cooled fast reactors in operation currently in Russia. Russia has maintained expertise and R&D activity in fast reactor technology. The BN-600, which produces 600 megawatts, has been in operation for 35 years. The BN-800 produces 840 megawatts of electric power. Russia has also developed an alternative fast reactor technology: heavy metal liquid technology. It is a eutectic system, meaning it uses a combination of two different elements to lower the melting point. But there are also downsides; using bismuth produces polonium through irradiation, which emits alpha particles. This requires more safety precautions. However, lead bismuth fast reactors can be used to power submarines.
Italy’s nuclear referendum (14:26)
14:26-20:46 (Stefano explains how Chernobyl occurred during his fast reactor research and how the accident led to the end of Italy’s nuclear program.)
Q. Where did you career progress after working on fast reactors?
A. In 1986, Stefano’s work on the material test for the test reactor was almost complete. However, Chernobyl happened and Italy decided to have a referendum to decide whether to continue with nuclear or not. The Italians where recommended to avoid particular vegetables that had been grown in parts of the country due to contamination from the accident. The politicians recognized that livelihoods of Italian citizens had been impacted and decided to allow the people to have a say in the continuation of nuclear power in the country. The continuation of nuclear also meant the potential for more infrastructure, something the Italian people may not have necessarily wanted when considering the geography of the country.
Italy’s love for complex science (20:47)
20:47-25:37 (Stefano discusses how despite the ended nuclear program, Italy still produces many strong nuclear PhD students.)
Q. Is there a chance Italy may ever go back to nuclear power?
A. Stefano does not foresee a return to nuclear in Italy’s future, despite the number of nuclear PhD students in Italy. This may be because nuclear science is part of Italy’s history. Italy also has a positive and strong attitude towards taking on complex science problems. The possibilities associated with nuclear science foster a creative field that many people are attracted to.
Sharing advanced reactor knowledge (25:38)
25:38-29:52 (Stefano discusses how one major benefit of working at the IAEA is the broad perspective he gains on the nuclear sector. He also explains the advanced reactor technology information system and the goal of facilitating the exchange of advanced reactor knowledge.)
Q. Do you get particular insight into this because of your job now?
A. Stefano sees his ability to interact with 171 countries as one of the benefits of working for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). His job as the Head of Nuclear Power Technology Development gives him a broad perspective of what is happening around the world. Stefano is responsible for a program devoted to advanced reactor and nonelectrical applications for nuclear power. One of his main missions is to create a space for the exchange of information. This means the IAEA brings together stakeholders of states participating in advanced reactor technology. One tool they use is the advanced reactor technology information system. This collects detailed information of the Generation 4 reactors, which are the designs for advanced reactors that are not yet in operation, and some Generation 3 reactors that may be in operation. The information system also includes details of the small modular reactors.