Ghanaian research reactor now set to run on LEU

20 July 2017

The conversion of Ghana's research reactor to run on low-enriched uranium (LEU) instead of highly-enriched uranium (HEU) has been completed. It is the first of five such Chinese-supplied reactors outside of China to be converted.

GHARR-1 fuel conversion - 460 (NNSA)
Members of the Chinese technical team make adjustments after the LEU core is inserted in the GHARR-1 (Image: NNSA)

The Ghana Research Reactor, known as GHARR-1, is a low-power research reactor with 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. 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 Ghana Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC) - started operations in December 1994.

In 2006, efforts were initiated to convert Chinese-designed MNSRs from HEU to LEU fuel. The GHARR-1 is 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 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the HEU core was removed from the reactor in August 2016 and a new LEU core installed. This operation was completed on 13 July.

Over the span of the project, a team of experts from the US Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the IAEA, China and Ghana performed detailed analyses to confirm the feasibility and safety of operating GHARR-1 with LEU fuel. The team fabricated and tested a new LEU fuel to ensure it would meet the reactor's needs and worked together to overcome complex logistical hurdles to ship the LEU fuel from China to Ghana.

NNSA said, "This successful conversion was the culmination of over a decade of complex scientific and political cooperation among the three countries and the IAEA, and it furthers NNSA's ongoing effort to minimise the use of HEU in civilian applications."

David Huizenga, NNSA acting deputy administrator for defence nuclear non-proliferation, said: "NNSA is extremely pleased to be supporting this cooperative international effort to convert MNSRs. We applaud the successful conversion of the MNSR at the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission and will apply what we've learned to future reactor conversions."

NNSA said it is cooperating with Nigeria, China and the IAEA to convert Nigeria's MNSR in 2018.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News