A ground-breaking ceremony has been held at the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre (SCK CEN) in Mol for its Recumo facility. From 2026, SCK CEN will use the new facility to transform radioactive residues into low-enriched uranium and to purify them. The residues are from the production of medical radioisotopes at the Institut National des Radioéléments (IRE) in Fleurus. The isotopes are produced by SCK CEN’s BR2 reactor in Mol and processed at IRE.

IRE and SCK CEN produce around a quarter of the world’s medical radioisotopes. Belgium is one of the five major producers and distributors of radioisotopes for medical purposes. “We have been producing them for more than 50 years, that is to say five decades of making a difference for millions of patients, said IRE CEO Erich Kollegger. “To keep fulfilling this public health role, we needed a structural solution for radioactive residues resulting from the production process.”

Using Recumo, the goal is to recover uranium for reuse. “We are giving a second life to these radioactive residues. They become reusable raw materials that can be used as fuel for research reactors or as ‘targets’ for the production of new radioisotopes”, explained SCK CEN director-general Peter Baeten. The residues are currently stored in special containers at IRE's site in Fleurus.

In March 2022, the competent authorities officially approved this project. The Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC) ranted the establishment and operating permit, while the Flemish Region issued the environmental permit.

“We are witnessing a historic event for IRE, SCK CEN and Belgium, by being the only country in Europe that will have such a unique facility”, noted Kollegger. The completion of the facility is planned for 2025. Shortly after that, SCK CEN will commission the facility and start purifying the residues. The facility will be processing current residues and those resulting from the production up to 2038.

Recumo will use state-of-the-art radiochemistry technology. SCK CEN first undertook uranium recover in laboratories in the 1980s. IRE and SCK CEN have since developed, optimised and fine-tuned the technology. “We are proud of our collaborators, those of 1988 and today. In 1988, they paved the way for this technique. By 2020, we could apply it on a semi-industrial scale,” Baeten said.

Image: The ground-breaking ceremony at the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre (SCK CEN) in Mol (courtesy of SCK-CEN)