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IAEA Mission Observes Strengthened Safety Measures at Belgium’s Largest Research Reactor, Sees Opportunities for Further Improvement

Mol, Belgium
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An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team of experts this week said Belgium had strengthened safety at its BR2 research reactor — a large producer of medical isotopes — by improving training, maintenance, ageing management and the safety of experiments. The team also found the need for further safety enhancements to the reactor’s organizational structure and operating rules and procedures.

The seven day Integrated Safety Assessment for Research Reactors (INSARR) mission to the Belgian Research Reactor 2 (BR2) was conducted at the request of the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC), Belgium’s nuclear regulatory body. The mission team comprised five experts from Argentina, Canada, the Netherlands, South Africa, and the United States, as well as three IAEA officials.

The team visited the reactor and its associated facilities and met with BR2 staff and FANC officials to assess the organizational and management arrangements in place. Its review also covered technical areas, including safety analysis, operation and maintenance programmes, radiation protection, and safety of experiments and modifications.

BR2 is one of three operating research reactors at the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre (SCK•CEN) in Mol, northeast Belgium. Operational since 1963, it is one of the world’s most powerful research reactors, supplying roughly one quarter of the global production of radioisotopes for medical purposes, including for cancer therapy and medical imaging. In addition, BR2 produces radioisotopes for industrial purposes and develops doped silicon, which forms a semiconductor material that provides the basic substance for electronic components.

BR2 has gone through periodic safety reviews in 1986, 1996 and 2016, and is permitted to operate until its next periodic safety review, planned for July 2026, when a decision may be taken on permitting reactor operation for the following 10 years. BR2 currently runs on highly enriched uranium (HEU) but plans are underway to convert from the use of HEU to low enriched uranium (LEU) fuel.

“SCK•CEN has shown continued commitment to safety and established programmes and procedures in line with the IAEA safety standards,” said the INSARR’s team leader Amgad Shokr, Head of the IAEA’s Research Reactor Safety Section. “SCK•CEN’s continued observation of this established practice in planning and implementing operational safety activities, particularly those related to conversion from HEU to LEU, and refurbishment and modernization of the reactors’ systems and components, is of vital importance to safety.”

The INSARR team observed the effective implementation of administrative and technical measures to ensure the safety of reactor experiments. It also welcomed the continued good practice of Belgium’s voluntarily reporting on safety at BR2 to the review meetings of the Convention on Nuclear Safety.

The INSARR team made recommendations and suggestions for further improvements, including the need for:

  • Strengthening the organizational structure for reactor operation by enhancing the coordination of the maintenance activities and the handling of radioisotope production and experimental devices. 
  • Improving the functioning of the SCK•CEN reactor safety committee by enhancing its procedures and expanding its scope to include reviews of proposed experiments and modifications, as well as reports on regulatory inspections of the reactor.
  • Enhancing the clarity of operational limits and conditions by expanding them to cover all operational states of the reactor as well as periodic tests of all safety systems and components.            
  • Strengthening existing radiological protection practices by improving the operational performance of radiation monitors at the workplace.   

“We put a lot of effort into ensuring a high level of safety and making continual improvements. I am pleased to see that noted in this review,” said Steven Van Dyck, BR2 Manager. “The INSARR mission provided us with valuable recommendations for further improvement, and we are committed to implementing them.”

SCK•CEN will make the results of this mission publicly available and plans to request a follow-up INSARR mission in 2025.


INSARR missions are an IAEA peer review service, conducted at the request of a Member State, to assess and evaluate the safety of research reactors based on IAEA safety standards. Follow-up missions are standard components of the INSARR programme and are typically conducted within two years of the initial mission. General information about INSARR missions can be found on the IAEA Website.

The IAEA Safety Standards provide a robust framework of fundamental principles, requirements, and guidance to ensure safety. They reflect an international consensus and serve as a global reference for protecting people and the environment from the harmful effects of ionizing radiation.

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