Several research fields, a clear focus
Projects as a strategic guide
SCK CEN was founded in the 1950s to study the applications of nuclear energy, but we have since expanded our knowledge into a wide range of research fields and projects. Each field has a strong future-oriented and international focus. MYRRHA, NURA and RECUMO are the largest projects of SCK CEN, with which we want to make a significant difference in the near and distant future. It is high time to review the status of these projects.
Expertise: check! Equipment: Double-check!
Currently, a quarter of all the world's medical radioisotopes start their journey at SCK CEN. This figure will increase significantly in the future, as SCK CEN ramps up the fight against cancer with NURA – the dedicated cancer research programme founded in 2018. "With NURA, we want to discover the untapped potential of radioisotopes, both independently and as a Contract Research Organisation (CRO)," explains project manager Dennis Elema. These radioisotopes include actinium-225, terbium-161 and samarium-153. To realise this ambition, the right equipment is at least as important as knowledge and expertise. Since 2020, SCK CEN has had a MILabs U-SPECT CT scanner. Its installation marks another milestone in the NURA project. "Now our cancer research can truly get started. This scanner enables us to map the impact and path of promising radioisotopes, and thus continually improve our knowledge of radiopharmaceutical processes."
One MYRRHA first after another: Full speed ahead into the new development phase
SCK CEN is currently working hard on the construction of MYRRHA, the world's first particle accelerator-powered research reactor. The construction of MYRRHA is taking place in several phases. In phase 1, we are building MINERVA, the particle accelerator with energy of up to 100 megaelectron volts (MeV). This phase progressed at lightning speed in 2020: in the summer, our researchers succeeded in accelerating a proton beam for the first time in the newly connected Radio Frequency Quadrupole (RFQ). Just six months later, they took that result to the next level. For the first time, the RFQ produced a proton beam at the exact conditions required to power the particle accelerator. “A milestone we have been working towards for six years, a breakthrough that is the result of international collaborations,” says Hamid Aït Abderrahim, Director of MYRRHA and Deputy Director-General of SCK CEN.
Construction of the RECUMO plant now one step closer
In 2020, SCK CEN submitted an application to expand an existing nuclear installation on its site. That expansion is necessary in order to carry out the RECUMO project. This project forms a continuation of the long-standing partnership between SCK CEN and its sister company, the Institut National des Radioéléments (Institute for Radio Elements (IRE)). SCK CEN will convert the radioactive residues that remain after the production process of medical radioisotopes into low enriched uranium and purify it. “The high-quality material we recover can be reused as fuel for research reactors or as targets for radioisotope production. This will enable us to ensure the security of material supply,” says Eric van Walle, Director-General of SCK CEN. This year, in 2021, the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC) will issue its decision on the operating license, while the Flemish Region will do so regarding the environmental license. "Once we've got the green light, we can get started!"
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