Loan for continued Petten operation

20 October 2014

The Dutch government will provide a loan so that necessary upgrades can be made to enable the aging Petten research reactor to operate for a further ten years, by which time its replacement should have started up.

Petten 460 (NRG)
The High Flux Reactor at Petten (Image: NRG)

Minister of economic affairs Henk Kamp announced on 17 October that the government would provide the loan to the Netherlands' Nuclear Research and Consultancy Group (NRG) and its subsidiary Netherlands' Energy Research Centre (ECN) to enable the continued operation of the 54-year-old High Flux Reactor (HFR).

ECN conducted research last year into the technical state of its nuclear facilities. The results indicated that substantial investments were needed to keep the HFR in operation until its replacement, the Pallas reactor, begins operating in about ten years' time.

ECN and NRG do not have the necessary funds themselves to finance the required investments, primarily due to lack of revenues as HFR has been out of action for repairs and maintenance for extended periods. In 2013, for example, the reactor was offline for a total of nine months.

Having failed to secure short-term private financing to make the necessary upgrades at HFR, the companies requested assistance from the Dutch government in November 2013.

Kamp said that the government was now willing to lend ECN and NRG the funds required. The loan, up to a maximum of €82 million ($105 million), will be provided at market interest rates and paid in instalments. However, the loan will be provided on two conditions. Firstly, the companies had to ensure that HFR can operate safely for a further ten years. Secondly, the outlook for the company must be positive enough that it will be able to repay the loan through the sale of medical radioisotopes.

ECN CEO Paul Korting welcomed the minister's announcement. He said, "ECN and NRG are essentially healthy companies with a successful research portfolio and a full order book. Through this credit we can implement our recovery plan and investment program so that ECN and NRG can continue to perform their social responsibilities with a much improved management and safety culture."

Kamp noted, "It is important that the research reactor in Petten can continue running for the production of medical radioisotopes and the importance of the company to the Dutch economy."

Since it started in September 1960, the 45 MWt HFR has been largely shifted from nuclear materials testing to fundamental research and the production of medical radioisotopes. The reactor - operated by NRG on behalf of the European Union's Joint Research Centre - has for a long time supplied about 60% of Europe's and 30% of the world's supply of medical radioactive sources.

The Pallas reactor will take over HFR's role as a major supplier of the world's medical radioisotopes. It is likely to be of the "tank-in-pool" type, with a thermal power of around 55 MW. The initial phase of the project - to develop a licensable design - is expected to be completed by 2017. The second phase, construction, is scheduled to be finished by 2023. The Dutch government has already agreed to provide an €80 million ($102 million) loan for the construction of Pallas.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News