The Nuclear Research and Consultancy Group (NRG) in the Netherlands said on 18 March that, from now on, the High Flux Reactor (HFR) in Petten will only produces medical isotopes using low enriched uranium (LEU). Until recently, production for NRG's Belgian partner IRE was still based on highly enriched uranium (HEU), because IRE could not fully process low-enriched uranium. However, IRE has now partially converted its chemical process to LEU allowing NRG to take the final step and end the use of HEU in the HFR.
Every day, 30,000 patients worldwide are treated with medical isotopes from the Petten reactor. In 2006 the reactor switched from HEU to LEU fuel. In 2018, NRG, together with Curium, took the step to also convert the molybdenum-99 production process in the Pettense Molybdenum Production Facility (MPF) to LEU. "We are extremely pleased that the final step has been taken with this and that our partners no longer need highly enriched uranium for the production of medical isotopes from the HFR," said Vinod Ramnandanlal Commercial Director NRG. "In fact, in this way we achieve a kind of non-proliferation quality mark for medical isotopes."
The 45 MW HFR began operation in September 1960, initially primarily for nuclear materials testing. However currently it is used mainly for fundamental research and the production of medical radioisotopes. HFR is operated by NRG on behalf of the European Union's Joint Research Centre an supplies some 60% of Europe's and 30% of the world's medical radioactive sources. In 2012, the Dutch government approved the construction of the Pallas reactor to replace the ageing HFR. Pallas is expected to begin operation around 2024 and will only use LEU for both fuel and the production of medical isotopes.