Commitment to safety at Ghanaian research reactor

24 April 2018

The operator of the Ghana Research Reactor, known as GHARR-1, has shown a high commitment to safety following the conversion of the reactor core to use low-enriched uranium as fuel instead of high-enriched uranium, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). It made a number of recommendations to the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC) to further enhance safety.

GHARR-1 is a low-power research reactor with a maximum thermal power level of 30kW. It is a commercial type of the Miniature Neutron Source Reactor (MNSR) designed, manufactured and constructed by the China Institute of Atomic Energy. Originally fuelled with 90.2% HEU, the reactor is designed for use in universities, hospitals and research institutes, mainly for neutron activation analysis, production of short-lived radioisotopes, education and manpower development. The GHARR-1 reactor - located at the National Nuclear Research Institute of the GAEC - started operations in December 1994. It is primarily used for trace element analysis for industrial and agricultural purposes, research, education and training.

In 2006, efforts were initiated to convert Chinese-designed MNSRs from HEU to LEU fuel. The GHARR-1 was the first of five such MNSR reactors outside of China eligible for conversion and fuel return to China. Under a project involving China and Ghana, as well as the USA and the IAEA, the HEU core was removed from the reactor in August 2016 and a new LEU core installed. This operation was completed in July 2017. The HEU fuel was returned to China the following month.

An IAEA Integrated Safety Assessment of Research Reactors (INSARR) mission is conducted at the request of an IAEA member state. It is a peer review service that assesses and evaluates the safety of research reactors based on IAEA safety standards.

A five-day INSARR mission to assess the safety of the GHARR-1 reactor concluded on 20 April. The four-member team comprised experts from France, Jamaica and the USA, as well as the IAEA. The mission covered organisational and management aspects as well as technical areas including the core conversion, safety assessment, training and qualification of operating personnel, operation and maintenance programmes, radiation protection, and emergency preparedness.

"The research reactor's operator is showing a high commitment to safety and has implemented safety improvements as part of the reactor core conversion," said team leader Deshraju Venkat Rao, nuclear safety officer at the IAEA. "There is a need for further improvements, however, particularly in areas related to organisational measures, safety documentation, and operational safety, including radiation protection aspects."

The mission team made recommendations to the GAEC for further improving safety at GHARR-1. These include completing the revision of reactor safety and operating documentation to reflect the results of the commissioning of the reactor following the fuel conversion. It also recommended GAEC enhance the training and qualification programme for operational personnel. The team said GAEC should also improve the capability for monitoring operational safety parameters under all conditions, as well as strengthening radiation protection.

GAEC Deputy Director General Shiloh Dede Osae said, "We appreciate the IAEA's continuous support, which was vital to carry out the core conversion activities safely. The INSARR mission recommended organisational and technical measures to further strengthen the safety of the GHARR-1 research reactor. We are committed to implementing the recommendations. The reactor's continuous safe operation will enhance its utilisation and support research, education and training in the nuclear field in Ghana."

The GAEC said it will request a follow-up INSARR mission by 2020.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News