Russia starts cobalt-60 production at Kursk plant

29 November 2018

The Kursk nuclear power plant in Russia has started producing cobalt-60, following the loading of additional cobalt absorbers into unit 4, Rosenergoatom has announced. Cobalt-60 is used to sterilise medical instruments and in cancer treatments.

Plant personnel preparing equipment for loading of additional cobalt absorbers into Kursk 4 (Image: Rosenergoatom)

Rosenegoatom, the nuclear power plant operator subsidiary of Rosatom, said the achievement is part of its project for industrial-scale production of the radioisotope.

There is consistently high commercial demand for cobalt-60 in Russian and world markets and the prospects for increasing its production are "clear for decades to come", the company said.

Cobalt-60 has already found wide application for sterilising foodstuffs, medical instruments and materials, for stimulating the growth and yield of grain and vegetable crops, disinfecting and cleaning industrial waste, radiation surgery for various pathologies, and for gamma flaw detection of various products, it added.

The loading of the cobalt absorbers at Kursk-4 was carried out by the plant's operators and followed "painstaking" preparatory work and receipt of the relevant permits from regulator Rostechnadzor, it said.

Vyacheslav Fedyukin, director of Kursk NPP, said the plant had thus played its part in Rosatom's strategic goal to create new products for the domestic and international markets. Using the "unique capabilities" of RBMK reactors, Rosenergoatom is Russia's leading producer of cobalt-60, he added.

The Soviet-designed RBMK (reaktor bolshoy moshchnosty kanalny, high-power channel reactor) is a pressurised water-cooled reactor with individual fuel channels and using graphite as its moderator. It is also known as the light water graphite reactor.

Nikolay Kushkova, head of the company's radiation technologies department, said that advanced technology for producing "one of the most sought-after radioactive isotopes on the market" had already been tested at the Leningrad and Smolensk nuclear power plants, which are also RBMKs.

"In our work we're relying on their experience," he said. "The process of loading additional cobalt absorbers is no different from loading regular additional absorbers with boron carbide, and their use does not change the neutron-physical characteristics of the reactor facility. All work was carried out in a way that ensured a high level of nuclear and radiation safety," he added.

Each additional cobalt absorber includes 1152 tablets of nickel-plated natural cobalt-59 and, after five years of irradiation in the reactor, the natural element is transformed into cobalt-60, Rosenergoatom said. After irradiation, personnel from the radiation technology department will use specialised equipment and accessories to divide the cobalt absorbers into elements and load them into transport containers for delivery to customers, it added.

The company has been developing production of cobalt-60 at the Leningrad NPP for more than twenty years, it said, and in 2016 began a project to produce the radioisotope at the Smolensk and Kursk plants. In the autumn of last year, the first additional cobalt absorber was loaded into unit of the Smolensk NPP.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News