Nuclear experts tackle isotope shortages, fuel risks at UN meeting

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Image Source: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Operators of the 250 global nuclear reactors, which are used for scientific testing and the production of medical isotopes, met this week in Vienna, Austria, to tackle isotope shortages and fuel risks at a meeting supported by the United Nations (UN), according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Among other topics, the 230 experts gathered from more than 30 countries are exploring possibilities to wean their reactors off of highly enriched uranium (HEU), which poses dangers because it can be used to make nuclear explosives.

"The main issue during this conference is the development of very high density low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel, as well as the conversion of the most demanding high-flux research reactors to use LEU instead of HEU," according to Pablo Adelfang, head of the IAEA Research Reactor Group.

The 13th International Topical Meeting on Research Reactor Fuel Management, held from 22-25 March, contributed to the search for solutions to the transportation, final disposal and reprocessing problems of spent fuel, IAEA said.

Another issue discussed was the shortage of the isotope technetium-99m which is used for medical treatment and for which 95 percent of the world's needs are supplied by only five research reactors, all of them over 40 years old, the agency report.

The conference is organized by the European Nuclear Society in cooperation with the IAEA, which, in its supporting role, is funding participation of some experts from developing countries.