The Nuclear Research and Consultancy Group (NRG) of the Netherlands has begun the process to acquire a permit for the construction and operation of the Pallas research reactor, a replacement for the High Flux Reactor (HFR) at Petten.
The company submitted a 'pre-starting note' to the Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment on Tuesday for the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report for the reactor. The pre-starting note informs the government that NRG intends to conduct the EIA for the new reactor and requests from the government the criteria which NRG must look at for the EIA. The submission of the pre-start note marks the first formal step in the procedure to request a construction permit for Pallas.
In a statement, NRG said: "Key elements in the design of the new Pallas reactor are safety, reliability, flexibility and efficiency of operation. With Pallas, the Netherlands will ensure the continuity of their nuclear research, increase the security of supply of medical isotopes and extend their strong position held in these two globally developing markets."
NRG - the largest producer of medical isotopes in Europe - said that it is considering two possible sites for the Pallas reactor. These are Petten, where HFR is sited, and in the locality of the country's nuclear power plant, Borssele, where there is strong local government support. The company noted, "Boundary conditions set by the Dutch government and business economic considerations will play an important role in the final decision about the location."
According to NRG's current thinking, Pallas could be built around 2014 or 2015 and enter full operation during 2016. However, NRG noted that "this will be subject to the financial options and planning procedures."
The proposed Pallas reactor has received political support in the Netherlands, with the government issuing a statement in early October in support of the idea. In addition, three ministers - between them covering science, technology, planning, education, the environment and the economy - wrote to parliament giving a positive decision in principle on the construction of Pallas.
At that time, NRG told World Nuclear News that it had been anticipating the moves and was ready to begin the licensing process. The organisation said that a contractor should be chosen to start a two-year project to produce a detailed design "by the end of this year." In 2012 full licensing deliberations could be underway based on the detailed design and a proposed site.
NRG operates the HFR on behalf of the European Union's Joint Research Centre (JRC). HFR started operating in 1961 and has since undergone several modernizations. The operational life span of HFR extends until after 2015.
HFR is the source of 30-40% of the world's medical isotopes, which are used in a variety of imaging procedures for diagnosis as well as radiotherapy. A key product from HFR is molybdenum-99, which decays into technetium-99m - used for medical imaging. Molybdenum-99 has a half-life of just 66 hours, so deliveries to hospitals need to be regular and frequent.