Research Reactor Fuel Cycle
The fuel cycle of research reactors is similar to that of most power reactors, including all steps from fuel fabrication to spent fuel management. The IAEA assists Member States in all phases of this cycle and, upon request, helps them convert their research reactors from high- to low-enriched uranium. Through the Department of Technical Cooperation, we have supported fuel procurement, evaluation for reactor modification, hot cell refurbishment and fellowships for the study of the research reactor fuel cycle.
For more than three decades, we have worked with states and NGOs to return high-enriched uranium fuel to the country of origin, develop and qualify low-enriched fuels and prepare research reactors for conversion. Approximately 80 civilian research reactors have been converted and 34 countries no longer possess any high-enriched uranium. Return programmes fall under three categories:
US-Origin Return Programme - Started in 1996, more than 60 shipments from 30 countries
Russian Research Reactor Fuel Return Programme - Started in 2002, more than 66 shipments from 15 countries
Chinese-Origin HEU MNSR Return Programme - Started in 2014, HEU fuel from the Miniature Neutron Source Reactors in Ghana and Nigeria have been returned
We also support the production of radioisotopes from low-enriched uranium targets. Thanks to cooperation with the OECD and various stakeholders, the majority of the world's Mo-99, the single most important radioisotope for medical diagnostic procedures, is based on low-enriched uranium.