IAEA To Support Nigeria’s Research Reactor

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Yemisi Izuora 

A new peer review service has been launched by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to assist member states in the development of infrastructure for nuclear research reactors. The first Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review for Research Reactors (INIR-RR) mission was carried out last week in Nigeria.

According to the IAEA, operation of a research reactor requires a national infrastructure – including a legal and regulatory framework – to ensure that national and international obligations are met during planning, design, construction, operation and decommissioning.

The INIR-RR review follows the IAEA’s ‘Milestones Approach’, which provides guidance on the preparation of a research reactor project by addressing 19 issues ranging from nuclear safety and security to the fuel cycle, waste management, and funding and financing.

“The INIR-RR helps member states identify and address gaps in infrastructure development, in line with international good practices as well as applicable IAEA safety standards and guidance,” the Vienna-based agency said.

Andrea Borio di Tigliole, head of the research reactor section in the IAEA’s Department of Nuclear Energy, said: “While the IAEA previously carried out advisory missions to support member states in embarking on research reactor programmes, the INIR-RR will offer more structured and systematic assistance for assessing and further developing national infrastructure.”

The first INIR-RR mission was conducted last week in Nigeria at the invitation of the government, which is planning to construct the country’s second research reactor.

The five-day mission was conducted by the IAEA Departments of Nuclear Energy, Nuclear safety and Security, and Nuclear Science and Applications, and implemented as part of the IAEA Technical Cooperation Programme. The mission team, led by Borio, comprised two experts from Argentina and South Korea, as well as four IAEA staff members.

The team concluded Nigeria is making “notable progress” in strengthening the infrastructure for a new research reactor, which is expected to begin operation in 2025. The team also made recommendations and suggestions aimed at helping Nigeria to advance infrastructure development, including to finalise the cost assessment and funding strategy and to complete the plan for human resources development. The team also recognised Nigeria’s good practice of utilising effectively resources across national organisations involved in the project.

Simon Mallam, chairman of the Nigerian Atomic Energy Commission, said, “We believe this review will serve Nigeria well as it moves forward with its plans for a new research reactor, which will provide important resources for healthcare, industry, agriculture and human capacity building in the decades to come.”

Nigeria’s first research reactor – a 30 kW Chinese Miniature Neutron Source Reactor similar to units operating in China, Ghana, Iran and Syria – was commissioned at Ahmadu Bello University in 2004. The reactor has been used for the analysis of materials and training. The IAEA is assisting with the conversion of that reactor to low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel and the repatriation of its irradiated high-enriched uranium (HEU) fuel to China.

The new, more powerful research reactor will use LEU and be utilised for producing radioisotopes for cancer diagnosis and treatment, industrial applications, and developing skills and competencies as the country pushes forward with plans to introduce nuclear power.

Nigeria has been a member of the IAEA since 1964. Faced with rapidly increasing baseload electricity demand, the country’s federal government in 2007 approved a technical framework for a nuclear power programme.

Nigeria has sought the support of the IAEA to develop plans for up to 4000 MWe of nuclear capacity by 2025. IAEA support has included two missions to Nigeria in 2015, which found the country’s emergency preparedness and response framework to be consistent with IAEA safety standards. A ten-day IAEA Integrated Regulatory Review Service peer review mission last year described the country’s nuclear regulator, the Nigerian Nuclear Regulatory Authority, as a “committed” regulatory body working for the continuous improvement of nuclear and radiation safety.

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