Bolivia's nuclear technology research centre will be built 4000 metres above sea levelWork has resumed at Centre for Nuclear Research and Technology (CNST) under construction in Bolivia, following the landslide election of a new government in October, which will see the return of former President Eva Morales, who was forced into exile in November 2019. Morales had allocated $351 million for construction of the centre.

The EPC contract for the construction of the centre in El Alto was signed in September 2017. Construction of stage 1 facilities, the Cyclotron Radiopharmacy Preclinical Complex (CRPC) building began almost immediately and was scheduled for completion in 2020. Russia had said it planned to finish construction ahead of contract terms, by the end of 2019, but the coup against Morales deferred work and put the entire project in jeopardy. The new regime formally suspended construction in February.

On 27 October, the Bolivian Nuclear Energy Agency (ABEN) and Rusatom Overseas JSC (part Russia’s Rosatom), which oversees the construction of CNST, held a joint webinar on the research reactor, and how it will contribute to Bolivia's development. The event was attended by representatives of federal and regional authorities, leading scientific and research enterprises, technical universities and the media. The webinar participants discussed the use of research reactors in various fields, including the production of radioisotopes for nuclear medicine and for industrial, agricultural and scientific use.

“On the basis of CNST, radiopharmaceuticals will be produced for the first Nuclear Medicine Centre in Bolivia, which will allow local residents to be treated for oncological diseases without going abroad. The centre will also open up new opportunities for agricultural development and increased exports. And, finally, specialists in nuclear physics and related specialties both from Bolivia and other countries will be trained here, who will subsequently pass on their knowledge to future generations,” said Rusatom Overseas vice president Aleksey Altynov. “Thus, the centre will serve as a driver of scientific collaboration and technological development of the entire region. In addition to innovations, the project is also distinguished by its unique location – this is the first such centre in the world being built at an altitude of 4000 metres above sea level, and it will be built in Bolivia in the foreseeable future.”

In addition to the research reactor and equipment for the production of radiopharmaceuticals, the project will be equipped with a gamma unit for processing agricultural products, which will improve the quality and extend the shelf life. Thus, more people will have the opportunity to eat healthy food, and companies in the agricultural sector will increase the production and export of their products.

Rosatom is already hiring Bolivian companies for construction work, increasing the level of employment among the local population, and is also training personnel for the future centre, many of whom are being trained in leading Russian technical universities within the framework of international educational programmes.

Before the forced departure of Evo Morales, Rosatom in July 2019 had signed a Memorandum of Cooperation with Bolivia’s Ministry of Energy on the development of industrial and research projects in the lithium industry during an official visit by Morales to Russia. Rosatom and the Ministry said they intended to explore opportunities for joint work in the exploration and development of lithium deposits, the exchange of information and research in the field of mining and production of lithium and lithium products.

Also in July 2019, Russian nuclear regulator Rostechnadzor had signed a co-operation agreement with Bolivian Electricity and Nuclear Technology Supervisory Authority in the field of nuclear and radiation safety regulation and the peaceful use of nuclear energy.  The agreement covered development of a regulatory framework on radiation safety and security, licensing in nuclear operation, and oversight activities.

Photo: Bolivia's nuclear technology research centre will be located 4000 metres above sea level