IAEA Wants Research Reactors to use Low Enriched Uranium

By Giovanni Verlini and Misha Kidambi

There are approximately 250 operating civilian research and test reactors worldwide, of which around 75 use highly enriched uranium (HEU) as their fuel. But the use of HEU has the potential of nuclear proliferation as it could also be used for producing material used for nuclear weapons. The IAEA works with global partners focusing on how to convert HEU reactors to ones that can use low enriched uranium (LEU).

In the latest initiative in this area, experts met in Lisbon, Portugal, to coordinate their efforts and exchange information on research reactors fuel conversion.

"The meeting was a platform for information exchange on the progress of national and international programs to develop LEU fuels and targets for research and test reactors," says Pablo Adelfang, Leader of the IAEA´s Research Reactor Group and Cross-Cutting Coordinator for IAEA activities related to research reactors. "Moreover, it looked into the conversion of research reactors and radioisotope production processes into ones that can uses these LEU fuels and targets."

The meeting was only one of the many IAEA initiatives in this area. On 21 September, for example, conversion of Miniature Neutron Source Reactors (MNSRs) LEU fuel made important progress when the China Institute of Atomic Energy and the US's Argonne National Laboratory signed an agreement in Beijing. The agreement, which was facilitated by the IAEA, paves the way for the set-up of a Zero Power Testing Facility in China, a key ingredient in the conversion of MNSRs to LEU fuel.


The international meeting on Reduced Enrichment for Research and Test Reactors was held in Lisbon, Portugal, from 10-14 October 2010. The meeting was being hosted by the US Department of Energy in co-operation with the IAEA. It was the 32nd annual meeting in a series on the same general subject regarding conversion of reactors within the Global Threat Reduction Initiative.

The technical subjects included development of new LEU fuels, development and testing of LEU targets, processes for the production of Mo-99, design and safety analyses for reactor conversions, transportation and storage of spent fuels, and HEU minimization and global threat reduction.

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