Civilian nuclear research: Exchange of expertise between Kazakhstan and Belgium



The Belgian Nuclear Research Centre, the National Nuclear Centre of Kazakhstan and Kazatomprom have signed a collaboration agreement

An independent republic since 1991, Kazakhstan, a central Asian country of 15 million inhabitants with a surface area 90 times greater than that of Belgium, has great energy resources at its disposal. It was in Kazakhstan that the largest oil field in the world of the last 30 years was discovered – the Kachagan oil field, which has been exploited for two years now. The country produces 13% of the world’s uranium (some 5,279 tonnes), and has 17% of the world’s uranium resources. For the development of its peaceful applications in the field of nuclear science, the Kazakh government has been depending on the National Nuclear Centre (NCC) since 1992. The NCC employs close to 2,700 researchers and consolidates six of Kazakhstan’s research centres1, some were created in the 1950s in the Soviet era.

With this expertise in the field of nuclear science, it is in Belgium – in the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre (SCK•CEN) – that the government of the Republic of Kazakhstan has been drawing on know-how with regard to the treatment of nuclear waste and the development of the nuclear energy of tomorrow. With MYRRHA, Belgium has developed an internationally recognised innovative research infrastructure.

On Monday 25th October, in the presence of the president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, and Prime Minister Yves Leterme, the Kazakh National Nuclear Centre, Kazatomprom and the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre (SCK•CEN) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the exchange of expertise in the research of peaceful applications and the development of sustainable nuclear energy. This collaboration agreement particularly concerns the MYRRHA project, which from 2023 will contribute to the development of solutions in the fields of nuclear energy and medicine, industry and renewable energies.

A mining company founded in 1997 and 100% owned by the Kazakh government, Kazatomprom is the Republic of Kazakhstan’s national operator for the export and import of uranium, rare metals and nuclear fuels for nuclear power stations. With more than 25,000 employees and 18 mines, Kazatomprom is set to produce almost 15,000 tonnes of uranium in 2010, and become the world leader in the exploration, production and sale of uranium.

The signing of this agreement comes a few weeks after the signing of a similar agreement with China (on 6th October 2010). These agreements constitute the first step towards these Asian countries’ probable entry into the MYRRHA consortium, 70% of which is set, however, to consist of member countries of the European Union.


MYRRHA is a multifunctional research infrastructure implemented by the researchers of SCK•CEN. The Belgian government gave its approval for the construction of this infrastructure on 5 March 2010. MYRRHA is unique in the world for research into the treatment of nuclear waste, the continuous supply of radio-isotopes for medical and industrial use and the production of doped silicon, an essential component for electronic circuits in renewal energy applications and hybrid automobiles. The specific characteristics of MYRRHA result in a leading-edge tool for studying the materials of fission reactors of the future and for fusion.

The MYRRHA reduced-power model, GUINEVERE, is already operational at Mol. The Belgian Nuclear Research Centre launched GUINEVERE in March 2010.

Unlike current reactors, Accelerator-Driven Systems (ADS), operate by means of rapid neutrons. Those neutrons are injected into the heart of the reactor via an external neutron source driven by a proton accelerator. The heart of the reactor is sub-critical. This intrinsic quality ensures that the system is safe and easy to control. If the accelerator is extinguished, the chain reaction shuts down. This innovative technology based on the use of rapid neutrons makes it possible to achieve the optimal exploitation of uranium and reduces the quantities of radio-toxic waste.

1) The 6 research centres are: Institute of Nuclear Physics (INP), Institute of Atomic Energy (IAE), Institute of Geophysical Research (IGR), Institute of Radiation Safety and Ecology, Baikal Enterprise, Kazakh State Research and Production Centre of Explosive Operations

Image : insertion of the vertical line of the accelerator into the heart of the GUINEVERE reactor, reduced‐power model of MYRRHA, produced in close collaboration with the European partners, the National Scientific Research Centre (CNRS) and the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC).

Link to the report produced about GUINEVERE by the National Nuclear Physics and Particle Physics Institute of the CNRS:

Additional information:

Prof. Dr Hamid Aït Abderrahim
Deputy Director‐General of SCK•CEN and MYRRHA project Director