LEU fuel en route to Nigerian research reactor

19 October 2018

China has begun the shipment of low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel for use in the Nigeria Research Reactor-1 (NIRR-1), a Chinese-supplied Miniature Neutron Source Reactor that currently uses high-enriched uranium (HEU) fuel.

The fuel starts its journey from China to Nigeria (Image: CNNC)

NIRR-1 is a low-power research reactor with a maximum thermal power level of 30kW. It is a commercial type of the Miniature Neutron Source Reactor (MNSR) designed, manufactured and constructed by the China Institute of Atomic Energy. Originally fuelled with 90.2% HEU, the reactor is designed for use in universities, hospitals and research institutes, mainly for neutron activation analysis, production of short-lived radioisotopes, education and manpower development. The NIRR-1 reactor - located at Ahmadu Bello University's Centre for Energy Research and Training - began operating in 2004 and is used for the analysis of materials and training.

In 2006, efforts were initiated to convert Chinese-designed MNSRs from HEU to LEU fuel, enriched to less than 20% U235. The GHARR-1 in Ghana was the first of five such MNSR reactors outside of China eligible for conversion and fuel return to China. Under a project involving China and Ghana, as well as the USA and the IAEA, the HEU core was removed from GHARR-1 in August 2016 and a new LEU core installed. This operation was completed in July 2017. The HEU fuel was returned to China the following month.

The NIRR-1 will be the next MNSR to be converted to use LEU fuel instead of HEU. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is assisting with the conversion of that reactor to LEU fuel and the repatriation of its irradiated HEU fuel to China.

China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) announced yesterday that the shipment of LEU fuel for the NIRR-1 has started.

CNNC said, "The LEU-MNSR project is a critical part of the China-US Joint Statement negotiated at the 4th Nuclear Security Summit and a solemn commitment made by the Chinese government to the world."

The converted, more powerful NIRR-1 will be utilized for producing radioisotopes for cancer diagnosis and treatment, industrial applications, and developing skills and competencies as the country pushes forward with plans to develop up to 4000 MWe of nuclear capacity by 2025.

Similar MNSRs in Iran, Pakistan and Syria will also be converted to use LEU fuel.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News