Bolivia takes delivery of research reactor vessel

21 August 2023

The vessel of the research reactor that Russia is supplying to Bolivia has arrived at the construction site in El Alto. The Bolivian Nuclear Energy Agency (ABEN) said its arrival marks the project's transition from the construction phase to the equipment assembly phase.

The reactor vessel arrived at El Alto by road following its journey from Russia (Image: Lucho Arce)

The pool-type 200 kW pressurised water research reactor, developed by Russia's Research Institute of Atomic Reactors, is designed to have a service life of 50 years.

"We advance along the path of development, science and technology as a dignified and sovereign people," Bolivian President Luis Arce Catacora said in a tweet on 13 August. "The vessel and first component of the Nuclear Research Reactor have arrived in Bolivia, which will be at the El Alto Nuclear Technology Research and Development Centre."

ABEN noted the arrival of the vessel in the country marks a "very important milestone" in the implementation of the country's Nuclear Research Reactor, "since it means the transition between the construction phase and the equipment assembly phase, that is, it is the beginning of the installation of the components that form part of the heart of the reactor in which the main processes are carried out."

"Unlike power reactors used to generate electricity, research reactors focus on the research and development of technologies related to nuclear power," said Erlan Vasquez, a specialist in nuclear engineering at ABEN. "These reactors are used by scientists, engineers and academics to carry out experiments, generate scientific data and train future professionals in the field of nuclear energy."

"This type of facility allows us to produce radioisotopes that can be used to improve the management of our water resources," he added. "Another example is the application of neutron activation analysis in mining, which will help us to identify minerals of national interest and strategic for the country and therefore identify areas with potential for exploitation."

The research reactor is part of a Russian-Bolivian project to create a nuclear research and technology centre at El Alto, at an altitude of more than 4000 metres. The Cyclotron Preclinical Radiopharmacy Complex (CPRC) is already up and running, and will produce a line of pharmaceuticals to provide the necessary supplies for the network of Bolivian nuclear medicine centres, intended to allow Bolivians to get quicker and higher quality diagnosis and treatment without having to travel abroad.

The wider project will bring together advanced nuclear technologies for healthcare, agriculture and other industries. The first two stages of construction - the CPRC and the Multipurpose Irradiation Centre - have been completed, with construction and installation work continuing on the research reactor complex.

Rosatom announced the signing of a contract with the ABEN in September 2017 for the construction of the nuclear research and technology centre in El Alto. Construction of the facility began in July 2021.

Rosatom announced in May this year that it had completed a test assembly of the research reactor in Russia ahead of it being shipped to Bolivia. During the test, the assembly process of the main equipment was reproduced, including the installation of reflector blocks, mock-ups and simulators of fuel assemblies, plus control and protection elements as well as kit to ensure quality control of the manufactured elements.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News