Nuclear reactor gets government go ahead

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Nuclear reactor gets government go ahead

The Netherlands is going to build a new nuclear reactor, if the government gets its way. The reactor will produce medical isotopes which are important in the treatment of cancer. These radioactive particles are currently made in the 48-year-old nuclear reactor in Petten. Greenpeace has already announced it will campaign against the plan.

The Netherlands wants to maintain its position as one of the world’s main producers of medical isotopes. The Netherlands is only second to Canada in their production. Together the two countries produce 70 percent of the world’s supply: Canada 40 and the Netherlands 30 percent. The rest come from reactors in Belgium, France and South Africa.

Old and often out of order
All five of reactors are more than 40 years old and regularly suffer technical problems. The Canadian reactor has been out of order for months. The reactor in Petten need repairing, but maintenance has been postponed until next spring, by which time the Canadian reactor will be up and running again.

Hospitals all over the world could get into difficulties if both reactors are closed at the same time, as isotope stocks are not very large. Isotopes are vital for the treatment of cancer.�

Back door
So replacing the old reactor at Petten seems like a logical and highly necessary step, but first parliament has to agree. Environmental organisation Greenpeace is surprised by the government’s decision. Spokesperson Ike Teulings says it is “incredible” that a government which says it does not want to discuss nuclear energy, is allowing the construction of a new nuclear reactor “through the back door”. Mr Teulings believes there are alternatives for the production of isotopes.

“There are five large reactors in the world which produce medical isotopes. All of them are just as old and dilapidated as the one in Petten but 80 percent of the isotopes they produce are one certain type, i.e. Molybdenum. This isotope can be made in a particle accelerator. So it would be possible to close four of the five reactors without replacing them if you decide to produce this isotope, Molybdenum, in a particle accelerator.”

Not a good alternative
The Nuclear Research and consultancy Group, NRG, which operates the Petten reactor, concedes that there are alternatives when it comes to producing medical isotopes. But these alternatives do not produce enough isotopes of sufficient quality and are therefore not up to the task. Juliëtte van der Laan takes up the story.

“You need a reactor in order to be able to produce the large amounts required for all those thousands of patients being treated with isotopes on a daily basis. At present reactors and particle accelerators complement one another and that will remain so in the future.”

Radioactive waste
In addition to the production of medical isotopes, the government also believes in keeping Dutch knowledge in the field of nuclear technology up to scratch. For this reason, the new reactor will also fulfil an important role in research – just as Petten currently does. Juliëtte van der Laan explains this role.

“We test materials and fuels for use in the next generation of nuclear plants. Another key objective in our research programme is working on solutions for nuclear waste. We have an international reputation when it comes to reducing the half-life of radioactive waste and it’s an area where excellent progress is being made.”

The government wants to see the new plant operational in 2015. But that seems unlikely given that in the Netherlands such projects are almost certain to be dogged by a multitude of objections and drawn-out procedures. The cost of the reactor, around €500 million, will be paid by the Dutch government, the European Union and the business community.

The location of the new reactor has yet to be established. The province of North Holland is keen to keep the reactor and the jobs it generates in Petten. But the province of Zeeland, home to the Netherlands’ only other nuclear plant, is also proving to be an interested candidate.

 Source: Radio Netherlands