Belgium extends reprocessing contract with Areva on research reactor fuel

Shaun Burnie with Mycle Schneider

The Belgian Nuclear Research Centre (SCK CEN) has extended a 1997 contract with AREVA for the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel from the BR2 research reactor in Mol. The reprocessing contract is one of only a few remaining overseas agreements held by AREVA. No details on fuel volumes or length of contract were provided by either AREVA or SCK CEN. However, the quantities of fuel involved are very small. The total quantity of spent fuel received between 1998 and 2006 was only 454 kg, of which 128 kg remained to be processed as of the end of 2013. A total of about 1,000 fuel elements were shipped in 18 transports from Mol to AREVA's La Hague plant in Normandy, France.

The BR2, which began operation in 1963, has no limit to its operational license, with the next ten year safety review due in 2016. SCK CEN are proposing to continue operation of the reactor beyond 2020 if possible, including a future research role in the development of the Myrrha fast spectrum research reactor (ADS).

Conversion of the BR2 from the current use Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) to Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) fuel is planned to be introduced from 2016, on the condition that fuel plates with sufficient uranium density will be qualified and available. A joint program between SCK CEN and Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) for the development of LEU uranium-molybdenum (UMo) dispersion fuel, has confirmed that the selected UMo fuel design could be used in the BR2 core. The experimental qualification for the use of this LEU fuel under high performance research reactor's operating conditions is still in progress.