Argentina’s RA-10 multi-purpose research reactor at Ezeiza Atomic Centre (CAE – El Centro Atómico Ezeiza) in Buenos Aires province, is now about 80% completed, according to project manager Herman Blaumann. "The civil work is already finished and in terms of supplies and installations the progress is 75%. This week the reactor's reflector tank will arrive … the installation of which is another key step in the work,” he told Argentina's Foreign Minister Diana Mondino during a tour of the facility.

Blaumann said the project is approaching its final stage. “The reflector tank is the most complex component of the reactor, he noted. It is being manufactured by private technology company INVAP and was designed by the National Atomic Energy Commission (CNEA – Comisión Nacional de Energía Atómica). The reflector tank, which weighs 2,540 kilogrammes, is 2 metres in diameter and 1.4 metres tall. Its installation will allow the assembly of the reactor pool internals.

INVAP (from INVestigación APlicada – applied research) is based in Bariloche and wholly owned by the Province of Río Negro. It was established in1976 as a spin-off of CNEA’s research laboratories division. Completion of the reflector tank final tests was celebrated in in Bariliche. Due to the characteristics of the material used, mostly zirconium alloy, the dimensional tolerances and the specific requirements of the manufacturing process presented a technological challenge. Construction of this one-of-a-kind piece of engineering took 32 months.

"This is not only engineering, but a work of art in the metallurgy field,” said CNEA President Adriana Serquis. She added that the INVAP workshop had accomplished something exciting. It is “a new milestone for the nuclear development of our country” and it will “provide us with new capabilities that are in high demand internationally”.

INVAP Nuclear Sector Manager Felipe Albornoz said the manufacture of the RA 10 reflector tank was a technical achievement – “completing a component that is the heart of the RA 10 reactor, along with the reactor core”. The rest of the installation is built around these components and being able to conceive it, design it and then manufacture it in our country, with our people in Bariloche, is a source of pride”. He added: “CNEA with its 70 years of nuclear history and INVAP with its almost 50 years can continue to contribute this type of development to make [Argentina] a better country." The reflector tank will be transported from Bariloche to Ezeiza by road.

The RA-10 project was approved by the government and was officially started by CNEA in June 2010. Argentina's Nuclear Regulatory Authority granted a construction licence in 2014 and civil works began in 2016. INVAP is the main contractor. The assembly of the RA-10 pool – which will house the core of the reactor – was completed in August 2018. The pool is 14 metres high and 4.5 metres wide. It was designed by INVAP and CNEA and built by metallurgical company SECIN. According to Blaumann the aim is to fill the reactor pool in December after which pre-operational tests will begin in July 2025 for operation in 2026.

The RA-10 – a 30 MWt open-pool research reactor – will be used for the production of medical radioisotopes and key research and training. It is based on the OPAL radioisotope production reactor that INVAP supplied to Australia in 2007. The RA-10 will replace the 10 MWt RA-3 reactor on the same site, which began operations in 1967. The RA-10 will have associated facilities such as the Argentine Neutron Beam Laboratory (LAHN) and the Laboratory for the Study of Irradiated Materials (LEMI). It will also produce silicon doped by neutron transmutation, a raw material for the development of advanced electronic applications, and sources of industrial iridium. CNEA says that more than 80 companies in Argentina are involved in the work.

Despite its periodic financial crises, Argentina has persevered with nuclear research and has a sophisticated nuclear science base including a number of research reactors which are used for training and isotope production.

  • RA-1, a 120 kW Argonaut reactor. developed in the Argonne National Laboratory in the US was provided under the Atoms for Peace programme and started operating in 1958 at the Constituyentes Atomic Centre.
  • In order to perform the testing needed to change to core of RA-1, Argentina built a zero power (1 watt) critical assembly, RA-0. It was initially installed in Constituyentes but later moved to Cordoba National University where it is used for training and research.
  • The RA-3 is a multi-purpose 5MWt pool type nuclear reactor for radioisotope production and research. To define the characteristics of the RA-3 core, another critical facility was built at Constituyentes, RA-2 (since decommissioned). RA-3 began operation at the Ezeiza Atomic Centre in 1967.
  • RA-4 is a small zero power (1 watt) critical facility supplied by Germany in 1969 to the Rosario National University where it is used for training and research.
  • RA-6 is a 500kW light water moderated and cooled pool reactor that began operation in 1982 at the Bariloche Atomic Centre as a training reactor. It is also used for cancer treatment using boron neutron capture therapy and production of silicon semiconductors and some isotope production.
  • RA-8 is a 10-watt multi-purpose critical facility that began operation at Pilcaniyeu in 1997.
  • RA-7 (a large 100MWt natural uranium fuelled heavy water moderated research reactor) and RA-5 (a critical facility of similar design) were designed by INVAP in the 1980s but never built because of financial restrictions.

Image courtesy of CNEA