Partnership between SCK•CEN and the IRE

2019-01-03

The partnership recently concluded between the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre (SCK•CEN) and the Institut National des Radioéléments (IRE) has made it possible to find a structural solution for the management of all of the highly radioactive residues stored at the IRE’s site in Fleurus (Belgium) which have resulted from the production of radioactive isotopes for medical purposes. Known as RECUMO, this project will help to ensure the secure supply of radioactive isotopes for medical purposes within a global context that is characterised by increasing demand, while guaranteeing sustainable, long-term management of the residues. This partnership materializes the decision of the Council of Ministers on 21 April 2017.

As a key player in the nuclear medicine sector, Belgium is one of the five major players in the world that are responsible for the production and distribution of radioactive isotopes for medical purposes. Those radioactive isotopes are essential not only for diagnostics, but also for the treatment of certain diseases, including cancer. Each year, almost 7 million patients around the world benefit from a medical examination that makes use of Molybdenum-99 produced in Belgium, this being the radioactive isotope most widely used for medical imaging purposes.

Today, more than 25% of those radioactive isotopes for medical purposes are produced in the BR2 research reactor located at SCK•CEN in Mol (Belgium) before undergoing a chemical process carried out by the IRE and ultimately being administered to patients. The residues left behind by that chemical process still contain a number of substances that can be recovered. At the present time, those residues are stored in special containers at the IRE’s site in Fleurus.

For Erich Kollegger, the CEO of the IRE: “This public-public partnership provides a structural solution for the management of all of the radioactive residues stored at the IRE’s site. It will make possible to recover those substances for other uses, whilst at the same time ensuring that Belgium retains the expertise that is necessary to ensure the safe management of this nuclear legacy. It also confirms our excellent relationship with SCK•CEN, which we have nurtured for many years now.”

Under the RECUMO project, these residues will be treated in accordance with the most stringent security and nuclear safety standards. They will be converted into low-enriched uranium and will subsequently undergo purification in Mol in order to obtain a high-quality substance that can be reused. RECUMO will also enable processing of residues generated in the future at the IRE.

Recognised as a leading centre of research, both in Belgium, as well as on an international level, SCK•CEN possesses both the expertise and the qualified staff that are required. “New cutting-edge infrastructures will be created in Belgium in order to achieve this partnership, which, as a public-public partnership, will guarantee long-term employment in our country. In this particular domain, as in many others, this partnership bears witness to the increasing synergies we are able to develop between our two organisations,” explains Eric van Walle, Director-General of SCK•CEN.

The RECUMO project embodies Belgium’s commitments in the area of nuclear non-proliferation. It will be implemented in close collaboration with the Directorate-General for Energy of the Federal Public Service Economy, SMEs, Self-Employed and Energy, and under the supervision of Belgium’s Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC).

Press contact

SCK•CEN - Cathy Schoels +32 477 68 02 80 - cathy.schoels@gmail.com
IRE – Bérénice Pignol +32 471 70 62 44 – Berenice.pignol@ire-elit.eu