Second US reactor gets isotope go-ahead

12 October 2010

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has approved a licence amendment allowing a pilot program to produce cobalt-60 at the Hope Creek nuclear power plant in New Jersey.

Hope Creek 
Hope Creek (Image: NRC) 

The amendment permits operator PSEG Nuclear to generate and transfer Co-60, a radioisotope with a variety of medical and industrial uses including cancer therapy, under NRC regulations for 'by-product' material. PSEG will be allowed to insert up to 12 modified fuel assemblies containing rods filled with cobalt-59 in the reactor's core. During reactor operation, the Co-59 absorbs neutrons and becomes Co-60. The irradiated assemblies are removed from the reactor (in the case of a BWR, at the next refuelling outage) and processed to recover the isotope.

The pilot program will allow PSEG to gather data to verify the satisfactory performance of the modified fuel assemblies prior to entering full-scale production of Co-60. The company is planning to insert the modified assemblies into the 1209 MWe BWR during a planned refuelling outage this year.

Hope Creek is the second US BWR to seek permission to produce Co-60. In January, the NRC granted Exelon permission for a similar program at its Clinton BWR.

Most of the world's Co-60 comes from two Canadian suppliers, unit 4 at the Bruce B nuclear power plant and the ageing National Research Universal (NRU) reactor, although the isotope is also produced as a by-product at power reactors in Argentina, Canada, China, South Korea and Russia. Clinton and Hope Creek would be the first BWRs to produce the isotope: the others are all pressurised heavy-water reactors apart from Russia's Leningrad 1, which is a Russian-designed RBMK.

Radioisotope supply has been severely impacted by planned and unplanned outages at the world's radioisotope-producing research reactors over recent years, notably at NRU which only returned to service in August after 15 months of repairs following the discovery of a heavy water leak.

Researched and written

by World Nuclear News