Jamaica set to convert research reactor to LEU

08 April 2015

The Caribbean's only research reactor will be converted from highly enriched uranium (HEU) to low enriched uranium (LEU) fuel later this year, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said. The change will decrease proliferation risks while doubling the reactor's utilization capacity.

The Vienna-based agency is assisting the governments of Jamaica and the USA with the conversion of the reactor. The used fuel will be returned to the USA.

"The additional capacity will allow us to expand research work related to food safety, food security, water and air quality," said Charles Grant, director general of the International Centre for Environmental and Nuclear Sciences (ICENS) at the University of West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica. "With the additional capacity we will be able to accommodate the research needs of other countries" from the Caribbean, he added.

Jamaica has operated a 20 kW research reactor (Slowpoke II type) at the University of the West Indies for the last 30 years, with results in environmental, agricultural, and health-related studies, mineral exploration, as well as in education and training.

In November 2014, Jamaica requested assistance from the IAEA with the conversion of the research reactor from HEU to LEU fuel, in addition to supporting future operational needs, and ensuring that the process is carried out in full compliance with IAEA safety and security standards, and meets all safeguards provisions.

Following the conversion, the reactor will be operational 16 hours a day, up from eight hours currently.

The country hopes to secure help from the IAEA Technical Cooperation Program to enhance their capacities in the use of nuclear techniques, and eventually offer services to other countries in the region. These could include offering dosimetry services to hospitals and other workplaces handling radioactive sources and to build a regional capacity building centre for emergency preparedness, the IAEA said.

Manuel Recio, acting director of the IAEA Division for Latin America and the Caribbean said that Jamaica is in a good position to become a reference point to four new IAEA member states from the Caribbean - the Bahamas, Dominica, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago - as well other small island states in the region.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News