At UN-supported meeting, nuclear experts try to cut reactor fuel risks

25 March 2009

Operators of the world´s 250 research reactors – nuclear reactors that do not generate power but are used instead for scientific testing and the production of medical isotopes – are meeting this week to tackle fuel risks, the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency said today.

Among other topics, the 230 experts, gathering from over 30 countries in Vienna, Austria, are exploring possibilities to wean their reactors off of highly enriched uranium (HEU), which poses dangers because it can be used to make nuclear explosives.

"The main issue during this conference is the development of very high density low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel, as well as the conversion of the most demanding high-flux research reactors to use LEU instead of HEU,” according to Pablo Adelfang, head of the IAEA´s Research Reactor Group.

The 13th International Topical Meeting on Research Reactor Fuel Management, being held from 22-25 March, will also contribute to the search for solutions to the transportation, final disposal and reprocessing problems of spent fuel, IAEA said.

Another critical issue, the agency said, is the shortage of the isotope technetium-99m which is used for medical treatment and for which 95 per cent of the world’s needs are supplied by only five research reactors, all of them over 40 years old.

The conference is organised by the European Nuclear Society in cooperation with the IAEA, which, in its supporting role, is funding participation of some experts from developing countries.

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