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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 singlemost important radioisotope for medical diagnostic procedures, is based on low-enriched uranium.

IAEA Conference Proceedings
Fast Reactors and Related Fuel Cycles: Next Generation Nuclear Systems for Sustainable Development tab
IAEA Safety Guide SSG-47
Decommissioning of Nuclear Power Plants, Research Reactors and Other Nuclear Fuel Cycle Facilities tab
Analyses Supporting Conversion of Research Reactors from High Enriched Uranium Fuel to Low Enriched Uranium Fuel: MNSRs tab
IAEA Nuclear Energy Series NW-T-1.11
Available Reprocessing and Recycling Services for Research Reactor Spent Nuclear Fuel tab
IAEA Technical Reports Series 482
History, Development and Future of TRIGA Research Reactors tab
IAEA Nuclear Energy Series NW-T-2.6
Decommissioning of Pools in Nuclear Facilities tab
IAEA Nuclear Energy Series NF-0
Nuclear Fuel Cycle Objectives tab
IAEA Proceedings Series
Management and Storage of Research Reactor Spent Nuclear Fuel tab
Experiences and Trends of Manufacturing Technology of Advanced Nuclear Fuels tab
IAEA Nuclear Energy Series NP-T-5.2
Good Practices for Water Quality Management in Research Reactors and Spent Fuel Storage Facilities tab
IAEA Safety Guide
Core Management and Fuel Handling for Research Reactors tab