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Belgium’s National Institute of Radioelements will convert a medical isotope facility to LEU by the end of 2022

VIENNA – The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA) and Belgium’s Mission to the International Atomic Energy Agency announced a joint commitment Wednesday to minimize the use of highly enriched uranium (HEU) in civilian applications at the 2020 International Conference on Nuclear Security (ICONS). 

Belgium, represented by Ambassador Ghislain D’Hoop, alongside senior leaders from Belgium’s National Institute of Radioelements (IRE) and the Nuclear Research Center (SCK-CEN), reaffirmed the commitment to completing the conversion of its medical isotope production facility and its research reactor to low-enriched uranium (LEU).

IRE produces molybdenum-99 (Mo-99), a critical medical radioisotope used in 40,000 patient procedures daily in the United States. For decades, the United States has not had the capability to produce Mo-99 domestically and, until 2018, imported 100 percent of its supply from international producers, such as IRE. 

The majority of Mo-99 is now produced using non-HEU-methods and this announcement marks Belgium’s commitment for IRE to begin commercial production of Mo-99 using LEU in the first half of 2020, with full conversion to LEU by the end of 2022.

Belgian Reactor-2 (BR-2), located at SCK-CEN in Mol, Belgium, is a high-flux research reactor that currently uses HEU fuel to perform a broad variety of research and to produce medical isotopes.  NNSA and SCK-CEN maintain a strong collaboration to support the conversion of the reactor fuel to LEU as soon as technically and economically feasible.

“The commitment to convert the medical isotope production facility at IRE and the BR-2 reactor is an important step forward in the global effort to minimize the civilian use of HEU around the world,” said Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty, DOE Under Secretary for Nuclear Security and NNSA Administrator.  “Upon completion of the conversion of IRE by the end of 2022, all major medical isotope producers around the world will use LEU, reducing the threat posed by the theft, diversion, or misuse of HEU.  By reaffirming its commitment to timely convert BR-2 to LEU fuel, Belgium is highlighting the importance of HEU minimization in all civilian applications.”

This announcement marks the United States and Belgium’s strong commitment to HEU minimization and both countries’ efforts to ensure a stable supply of medical isotopes while also supporting nonproliferation objectives and reducing the threat of nuclear terrorism.