The construction of the RECUMO plant is now one step closer
From 26 March until 24 April 2021, a public enquiry will be held into the construction of the RECUMO plant on the SCK CEN site in Mol. In the proposed plant, the research centre will purify the radioactive residues resulting from the production of medical radioisotopes. “Radioisotopes of that type are indispensable in the fight against cancer and other diseases and thanks to this installation, we can guarantee their supply. The public enquiry forms an important step in the realisation of the RECUMO project,” says Eric van Walle, Director-General of SCK CEN. Anyone can consult the file at the town hall or on the website of the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC).
SCK CEN has submitted an application to expand an existing nuclear plant on its site. That expansion is necessary in order to implement the RECUMO project. By means of that project, SCK CEN and its sister company, the National Institute for Radio Elements (IRE) will continue their long-standing cooperation. SCK CEN will convert the radioactive residues that remain following the production process of medical radioisotopes, into low enriched uranium and purify them. “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 supply of radioisotopes,” says Eric van Walle, the Director-General of SCK CEN.
Ensuring a continuous supply of medical radioisotopes is also crucial. Belgium is one of the six global players in the production and distribution of medical radioisotopes. These radioisotopes are essential for the diagnosis and treatment of certain diseases, including cancer. Every year, nearly 7 million patients worldwide undergo a medical examination that is made possible thanks to molybdenum-99 produced in Belgium. Molybdenum-99 is the most widely used radioisotope in medical imaging and more than 25% of it is produced in Belgium.
RECUMO uses advanced technology in the field of radiochemistry as part of the purification process. This is not the first time that SCK CEN has made use of that technology. In 1988, the technique was already being performed on a laboratory scale and in the meantime, SCK CEN has refined and optimised it and made it ready for use on a semi-industrial scale.
Both partners are looking forward to the next steps to be taken in order to turn this project into reality, but in order to proceed, they still need an operating permit and an environmental permit. The Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC) handles the operating permit, while the Flemish Region is responsible for issuing the environmental permit. “The competent authorities do not take this decision lightly. The FANC will examine our application for an operating permit thoroughly: an initial preliminary positive recommendation has been given by the Scientific Council of the FANC. A public enquiry is the next step in the process,” explains Eric van Walle (SCK CEN). During the public enquiry, any interested party can have a look at the plans at their local authority.
A structural solution
The SCK CEN research centre offers a structural solution for the management of radioactive residues originating from the production of medical radioisotopes, which are currently stored on the IRE's site in Fleurus. The intention is that both current residues and residues produced in the future up to the year 2038 will be processed at the plant.
On Thursday 1 April at 7.00 pm, the municipality of Mol will be organising an info session during which the Flemish Department of Environment and SCK CEN will inform the local residents and any other interested party about the project plans. Due to the coronavirus measures, the info session will take place virtually. This link is to attend the session: www.gemeentemol.be/recumo. Interested parties can send their questions beforehand to info [at] sckcen [dot] be.
A watchful eye
The RECUMO project will guarantee the security of supply of medical radioisotopes and will create jobs. It also has other benefits. Thanks to this partnership, Belgium will be able to embed its extensive expertise within the nuclear domain. “We will maintain the necessary know-how to safely manage this nuclear heritage and to strengthen our leading position in the production of medical radioisotopes,” said Eric van Walle (SCK CEN). The RECUMO project is being implemented in close cooperation with the Directorate-General for Energy of the FPS Economy, SMEs, Self-employed and Energy, and under the supervision of the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC), Euratom and the United States. They will impose safety and security standards and will carry out checks to ensure that these are strictly complied with.