Two IAEA mission review Chile’s research reactor

21 July 2022

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has announced the completion of its first Integrated Research Reactor Utilisation Review (IRRUR) at the 5MW pool-type RECH-1 research reactor at the La Reina Nuclear Centre in Santiago, Chile. The IRRUR is a new IAEA review service, developed to assist countries in enhancing the utilisation and sustainability of nuclear research reactor facilities. The mission was requested by the Chilean Nuclear Energy Commission (CChEN).

Five experts from Belgium, Argentina, the USA, the IAEA and an observer from Peru joined the five-day mission in advance of another IRRUR mission scheduled to take place in Peru in August. The team carried out a thorough assessment of how the RECH-1 research reactor is being used and its potential capabilities. They identified further utilisation areas and feasible areas of research and development and products and services that the reactor can provide.

“The mission team found that there are many opportunities for expanded utilisation of the RECH-1 reactor,” said Nuno Pessoa Barradas, an IAEA research reactor specialist leading the mission. “Therefore, one key recommendation is to develop and implement an outreach strategy for the reactor, as this will greatly help to expand its user community.”

According to the IAEA Research Reactor Database, 223 research reactors are now in operation in 53 countries, and 24 new research reactor programmes are under planning and development.

Planning for the IRRUR mission to Chile began in July 2021, when a preparation mission for the RECH-1 research reactor was conducted virtually. This was followed by a virtual mission in December, due to COVID-19-related travel limitations, during which the team provided recommendations for the research reactor. One of these – the development of a neutron imaging system – has already been implemented with assistance from IAEA technical cooperation. 

“With the new setup, neutron imaging could be more affordable and therefore more feasible for the reactor to develop, which opens new lines of research at the reactor,” said Lin-wen Hu, Senior Research Scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Nuclear reactor Laboratory, who took part in the mission. Since the neutron imaging system was installed in June this year, tests have been carried out and the first neutron radiography has been produced.

The review mission concluded that Chile is making progress in strengthening the utilisation of the research reactor and made further recommendations. These included the establishment of partnerships with stakeholders in the area of medical radioisotopes to identify those of most interest and to forecast future needs. The team also recommended initiating a research and development programme based on neutron beams, starting with utilisation of the neutron imaging setup.

Luis Huerta, Executive Director of CChEN, noted: “These IAEA missions, with the objective of an exhaustive review of the Chilean nuclear reactor RECH-1, provide the analysis of our capabilities and capacities, in order to improve the operation and maintenance and expand the use and applications of our nuclear facility, especially for new research and development initiatives.”

During the same week, the first IAEA Operation and Maintenance Assessment for Research Reactors (OMARR) mission took place jointly with IRRUR on the RECH-1 reactor. OMARR missions aim to assist countries to improve operational and maintenance practices, communications and in-service inspections, and to assist in establishing an ageing management programme to improve reactor availability and reliability while extending the operating lifetime.

The OMARR mission was carried out by a team of five international experts, from Argentina, the Netherlands, South Africa and the United States, held discussions with staff and managers of the CChEN and provided advice and recommendations on relevant topics.

“We are very pleased with the synergy achieved by bringing together the two expert teams and the local operating staff towards a better understanding of the opportunities and constraints,” said Ruben Mazzi, leader of the OMARR expert team. “Implementing the recommendations of the OMARR mission will assist CChEN in its efforts to ensure the safe effective and reliable operation of the RECH-1, which is an essential condition towards the sustainable increase of the reactor utilisation for benefitting Chilean community in the next decades.”

Five more IRRUR missions have been planned for 2022 to 2023. Three missions will be conducted in Latin America, Africa and Asia Pacific this year, and two are planned in the USA in 2023.

Image: An IAEA team assesses utilisation of the RECH-1 research reactor in Chile (photo courtesy of IAEA)

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