Germany’s first nuclear facility, the Forschungsreaktor München FRM (Munich research reactor, FRM) went into operation on 31 October 1957. Even today, one of the world’s most powerful large-scale research facilities, the Research neutron source Heinz-Maier-Leibnitz FRM II (research reactor Munich II), is operated on the site, enabling cutting-edge research.
The Federal Republic of Germany’s “race to catch-up” in nuclear technology started with the FRM in 1957 as part of the “Atoms for Peace” program. The FRM II, one of the most advanced neutron sources ever, has been on the site since 2005 and also combines the neutron research of the Jülich Research Centre and the Helmholtz Centre Geesthacht in Germany. Work is carried out here internationally and right across the spectrum from physical basic research and material development to determining the age of works of art and medical applications. In areas such as energy, information technology, health, nanotechnology, geosciences and others, essential scientific services are provided which benefit more than 1,000 users from all over the world each year. Currently, a production facility for the molybdenum-99 isotope is being constructed to secure the pan-European supply of the most important radiopharmaceutical product for diagnosis, technetium-99m.
The founder of the FRM was its innovative founding director Heinz Maier-Leibnitz, political initiators across party lines were Franz Josef Strauss (CSU), the Federal Minister for Atomic Affairs at the time, and Dr. Wilhelm Hoegner (SPD), the Bavarian Minister-President. The FRM is not only the cradle of German nuclear technology but is also seen as the nucleus of the Technical University of Munich’s state-of-the-art campus in Garching and as the science location in the north of Munich which for nuclear technology and radiation protection also includes the Gesellschaft für Reaktorsicherheit, the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics, the Helmholtz Centre Munich and the Federal Office for Radiation Protection.
Until 2000, the FRM was used for research and education, particularly in physics and nuclear engineering. Essential principles of neutron research, which are still used throughout the world today, were developed in the characteristic “atomic egg”. At the FRM, the targets were placed close to the neutron source for the very first time, the neutron guides and the neutron backscattering method were developed for analysis at the atomic level, detectors for nuclear structure analysis were designed, the first cryogenic irradiation facility was built and the small angle neutron scattering method of analysis was developed. In basic research, neutron interference as further confirmation of wave-particle duality and evidence of the existence of “ultra-cold” neutrons, i.e. which move very slowly, were detected.