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IAEA Concludes Safety Review at BR2 Research Reactor in Belgium

2017/60
Mol Belgium

IAEA team members with representatives of Belgium’s nuclear regulatory body, the BR2 research reactor operator and observers at the end of an IAEA safety review mission on 14 Nov 2017. (Photo: Frank Joppen, BR2)

An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team of nuclear safety experts completed a mission today to review aspects of safety at the Belgian Research Reactor 2 (BR2), which plays a key role in the global production of medical and industrial radioisotopes.

The mission was requested by Belgium’s regulatory body, the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC).  The mission, which began on 7 November, focused on ageing management and continued safe operation.

The BR2 is one of three operating research reactors at the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre (SCK•CEN) in Mol, northeast Belgium. The research reactor, in operation since 1963, is one of the oldest in Western Europe. It accounts for about a quarter of the global production of radioisotopes for medical and industrial purposes, including for cancer therapy and medical imaging. In addition, it produces doped silicon, which forms a semiconductor material that provides the basic substance for electronic components. The reactor is permitted to operate until its next periodic safety review in 2026, when a decision on operation for a subsequent 10 years may be taken.

“The BR2 operator has made significant progress in establishing an effective ageing management programme,” said review team member Amgad Shokr, Head of the IAEA’s Research Reactor Safety Section. “Still, work remains in identifying and implementing additional practical upgrades to maintain continued safe operation of the reactor in line with the latest IAEA safety standards.”

The mission team said the reactor’s ageing management programme covers most areas recommended by the IAEA safety standards and that plans are in place to address outstanding topics.

The team identified good performances that will be shared with the global research reactor community. These include performing periodic safety reviews and voluntary reporting to the meetings of Convention on Nuclear Safety on the safety of BR2.

The team provided a number of recommendations and suggestions to strengthen the BR2’s safety for continued operation, including:

  • The ageing management programme should be expanded to include radioisotope production facilities and experimental devices as well as all civil structures important to safety.
  • The qualification programme for equipment important to safety should be enhanced.
  • The effectiveness of programmes and procedures to monitor ageing trends and to minimize physical degradation of reactor components should be reviewed on a regular basis.
  • The ageing management programme should be revised to address quality requirements and experience feedback.

The team comprised experts from Argentina, Canada, South Africa, and the IAEA.

“The mission was very useful for further improving the ageing management of the reactor and ensuring a high level of safety, which is essential for effective operation of the reactor in the long-term,” said Steven Van Dyck, BR2 Reactor Manager. “The operator of the BR2 is committed to implementing the recommendations and suggestions of the mission.”

Background

Reviews of ageing management and continued safe operation of research reactor are performed in accordance with a methodology developed based on the IAEA Safety Aspects of Long Term Operation (SALTO) Peer Review Service for nuclear power plants, and in accordance with the IAEA safety standards for research reactors. These reviews complement IAEA INSARR Missions, which are designed as a review of programmes and activities essential to safety.

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