Petten HFR starts talks for Russian HEU

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(November 13, 1998) Russian Prime Minister Primakov has authorized the start of negotiations between Russia and Euratom about the supply of up to 600 kg of High-Enriched Uranium (HEU) for the 45-MW (th) High Flux Reactor (HFR) in the Netherlands.

(502.4956) Laka Foundation - The export of HEU from Russia to Euratom would set a precedent, because Russia has agreed only to the export of HEU under bilateral agreements. In 1996 with France and with Germany this year. But no Russian HEU has left Russia yet since neither the French nor the Russians has agreed on transport arrangements. Russia doesn't have a bilateral agreement for nuclear trade cooperation with Euratom. A new Russian-Euratom agreement would permit the export of up to 600 kg of HEU for the HFR at Petten, the largest producer of radioisotopes in Europe. The 600 kg would be enough for 15 years, the time the HFR is foreseen to be in operation. The HFR was started up in 1962 and is operated by the European Union as part of its Joint Research Center (JRC). The day-to-day operation and maintenance is done under contract by the Dutch Energy Research Foundation (ECN).

The US sees the HFR as a key target in their Reduced Enrichment in Research and Test Reactor (RERTR) program. They have been trying to convince the EU to convert the reactor from HEU with 93% U-235 to fuel-enriched 20% U-235. Until recently JRC and Petten officials had resisted the conversion as being too long and too costly and as a potential risk for the reactor's performance. The new HFR director, Joel Guidez, said the reactor needs about 40 kg HEU per year. The HFR might need an additional 120 kg of HEU because it could take two or three years to get a license if the decision is made to convert and a gradual conversion could take some more years. Fuel supply for the HFR is assured until the end of the present program (December 1999). A gradual conversion would cut costs of conversion dramatically, because both reactor downtime and HEU expenditures would be reduced. This strategy was successfully conducted by Guidez at the French Osiris reactor. Early next year consultants from AEA-Technology will have completed a technical- economic study of the conversion study, which would serve as a decision basis for JRC and HFR. The new high-density silicide fuel needs to be made by the French firm Cerca beginning next year.
The spent fuel pool of HFR is expected to be full at the end of this year. At present, about 800 fuel elements are stored in the HFR pool.
If the AEA study concludes that conversion is not worthwhile, Petten has a contract with the organization responsible for storage of radioactive waste COVRA, to take the HFR spent fuel for interim dry storage in its facility near the Borssele reactor. But the facility for high-level waste has still to be built, so there would be a big storage problem. If the HFR is to be converted, the spent fuel could be sent back to the US.

If the decision to convert is made, then the US Department of Energy (DOE) would take back all the fuel. DOE officials are set to visit Petten in November and are expected to talk with Guidez at the 21st international meeting on RERTR in Sao Paola, Brazil this October. The DOE seems to agree with the supply of Russian HEU to the HFR on condition the HFR would be converted.


  • Nuclear Fuel, 5 October 1998
  • 1997 Annual Report HFR, Joint Research Center

Contact: Laka Foundation
Ketelhuisplein 43
1054 RD Amsterdam
The Netherlands.
Tel: +33-20-6168 294; Fax: +33-20-6892 179


Waste storage too expensive for producers

Dutch nuclear utilities (ECN, EPZ, SEP) like to sell their shares in the central organization for nuclear waste (COVRA) to the state because they would step out of nuclear power soon. But the most important reason for them is likely: less expenditures for storage of their nuclear waste.
Those three now own 90% of the COVRA shares, but only paid ƒl 2.4 million (US$1.3 million) of the costs each. The Dutch ministry of environment (VROM) has the remaining 10% of the shares, but has invested up to now the lion's share of the much-higher-than- expected costs and losses: ƒl 60 million. COVRA claims the costs are higher than expected due to delays in construction of the building to store high-active nuclear waste (HABOG). The delay is caused by the fact that the highest court, the Raad van State, this summer destroyed the license for the HABOG. This year the COVRA is to lose ƒl 5 million on a turnover of ƒl 10 million. ECN operates the Euratom High Flux Reactor (HFR) in Petten, EPZ is owner of the Borssele nuclear reactor, and SEP is the owner of the closed Dodewaard reactor. Inside the HABOG, high-active reprocessing wastes returning from France and UK are to be stored and (possibly) spent fuel from the HFR (see related article). Borssele is to be closed by the end of 2003, and the HFR by about 2015.

  • Volkskrant (NL), 6 October
  • NRC (NL), 8 October 1998