Bolivia receives key components for its first research reactor

25 August 2023

The vessel of the research reactor for Bolivia’s Centre for Nuclear Research & Technology (CNRT) has been delivered to the construction site. The CNRT is being built with Russian assistance in El Alto at an altitude of 4000 metres above sea level. The project is being implemented by the Bolivian Atomic Energy Agency (ABEN) in cooperation with JSC GSPI (part of JSC Rusatom Overseas). The first and second stages of construction have been completed – the Centre for Nuclear Medicine & Radiotherapy (CNMR), equipped with a cyclotron (particle accelerator), and the associated multipurpose irradiation centre (MCC), equipped with an industrial gamma plant.

Bolivian President Luis Arce Catacora announced the arrival of the Nuclear Research Reactor (RNI) vessel in a tweet. “We advance along the path of development, science and technology as a dignified and sovereign people. The vessel and 1st component of the Nuclear Research Reactor have arrived in Bolivia”, he said.

According to ABEN, the arrival of the vessel “marks a very important milestone in the implementation of the country's Nuclear Research Reactor, since it means the transition between the construction phase and the equipment assembly phase”. It is “the beginning of the installation of the components that form part of the heart of the reactor”.

The pool-type 200 kWt SM-3 high-precision research reactor unit was developed by specialists from Russia’s Research Institute for Atomic Reactors (NIIAR - part of Rosatom) in Dimitrovgrad, where a test assembly of the facility was carried out in May. An upgraded core has been developed by NIIAR for the reactor, which will have a service life of 50 years.

During the trial assembly, the entire process was reproduced, including the installation of reflector blocks, layouts and simulators of heat-selecting assemblies, regulatory and protection measures, and pipes of the experimental channels to ensure quality control of the manufactured components. The work was carried out jointly with specialists from OKBM Africantov, GSPI and JSC Diacon.

Erlan Vasquez, a specialist in nuclear engineering at ABEN said before shipment, inspections were undertaken to verify that the manufacture met international standards and that all the required quality controls had been carried out. He noted that the reactor will have a wide range of applications, ranging from environmental, industrial, mining, to forensic. “This type of facility allows us to produce radioisotopes that can be used to improve the management of our water resources. Another example is the application of neutron activation analysis in mining, which will help us to identify minerals of national interest and strategic for the country and therefore identify areas with potential for exploitation."

In the summer of 2021, first concrete was poured for the building where the research reactor will be located. The contract for the construction of the CNRT was signed between Rosatom and ABEN in 2017 but implementation was frozen for several years due to political developments in Bolivia.


Image: The reactor vessel arriving at the construction site in El Alto (courtesy of Lucho Arce)

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