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Nuclear summit highlights research reactor risk

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Today marks the beginning of the 2012 nuclear security summit in South Korea. Ahead of the meeting, US President Barack Obama delivered a speech at Hankuk University in Seoul, in which he reiterated his hope for a world free of nuclear weapons.

Obama has been particularly worried about the ‘loose-nuke’ scenario, in which a terrorist procures some nuclear material and fashions it into a crude weapon. One source would be research reactors, many of which were built during the height of the cold war and run on highly enriched uranium-235 (HEU) — the same material used in basic nuclear weapons.

In 2010, I accompanied a group of American advisers as they spirited uranium out of the Polish Institute of Atomic Energy in Otwock-Świerk, 30 kilometres southeast of Warsaw. It was a big undertaking, and you can watch a shaky bit of video from my trip below.

The US National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversaw the operation, continues to work at converting research reactors and removing nuclear material. Today the agency announced the successful conversion of Mexico’s lone research reactor to the less dangerous low-enriched fuel.

It’s a positive step, but to really get the research-reactor problem under control, the US needs to work on Russia, which has dozens of HEU-fuelled research reactors (see diagram). After years of negotiation, Russia has agreed to do “feasibility studies” on the possibility of converting a handful of its reactors, according to Matthew Bunn, a non-proliferation expert at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. But Russia, Bunn says, could do much more. The former superpower “has not yet committed even to do a study of which ones are still needed, and which could be converted or shut down.” Bunn has a new report out this month with a lot more detail on the research-reactor problem.

Russia is the biggest concern, but the West also has its fair share of research reactors running on HEU. One important use is the creation of medical isotopes for cancer treatments. Techniques involving low-enriched uranium are in development, and this morning Belgium, France, the Netherlands and the United States pledged to end the use of HEU processes by 2015.

You can read a lot more about the research-reactor problem in this feature about the ongoing US effort to secure HEU reactor fuel.


Image source: NNSA


  1. Report this comment

    DEVI PANDEY said:

    NSS-12,Highligt the Research Reactor Risk,but risk also associated with malevolent act,Lack of accoutability of regulatory bodies,& lack of Radioecological Awareness,Radiation Biology experimentation,Radiation protection devices and Medicine,hanky panky with funding agencies for nuclear research,etc.increase the risk. In India,i have an example of a person who was deliberately exposed Sr-90(internal)by some colleague in Radioecology Centre Hisar,but till today ,PMO,AERB,BARC,not helping the individual because that individual not have stronger connection with Nuclear Radiation Safety officers than culprits,if these kind of thing are not stop properly then no need to Understand the Risk associated with World.

  2. Report this comment

    Parthasarathy K S said:

    I request Devi Pandey to send me all the details about the incident he is talking about. I am a former Secretary of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, I have more than academic interest in any unusual incident involving ionizing radiation any where in the world. I contribute articles in related areas to leading newspapers such as The Hindu, The Tribune, The Deccan Herald, The Economic Times, PTI Feature among others. I am keen to know how some one could get access to radioisotopes to carry out any such act. Please contact me urgently at You may also carry out a google search to get an idea about my articles

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      DEVI PANDEY said:

      Already i had seen the article in The Hindu, Deccan Herald etc. but University of Concern person,Radioecology Centre Incharge,AERB some official not accepting this incidence,affected person visit internal dosimetry section BARC hospital-Mumbai in Sept.2011 but no examination,INMAS-Delhi,
      AIIMS-Delhi,Nuclear Medicine Department. Examine that person by gama scan and gama probe for Sr-90 ingestion.Drs. are fear about legal mechanism,person also visited RMC-BARC-TMC-Mumbai,no help,file case in NHRC-Delhi for treatment case I.D.-6043/30/3/2011,Underprocess, but i told that person if dr.not helping you,then you have to take Sod.alginate,Ammo.chloride,BaSo4,Ca-tab,Ascarbic acid,Probiotics,Turmeric leaf juice,Trifla,distillate of cow urine,Spirulina tab.,and continuos monitor ALP,ROS .AIIMS -Biochem,NPC,Ortho,Genetics,Forensic Medicine & Toxicology, in writing we are not done any testing to look for Radioactive damage.Dr.already in safety mode,few SR-advice Biodosimetry,but not available in AIIMS,but few people do Biodosimetry in INMAS-but lack of letter from University no body help,now that person reported chronic pain in long bone with out any Abnormality ,but asympotomatic for gastritis of lower intestine after use of Alginate,other herbal radioprotectants.I donot how you can help that person,Sr-90 already consumed by Bone and beta rays unable to come from body.and which Institute help in this case.Please help me in this case. I will be very thank ful to i heared about Sr-90 in nitrate brought from TAPP-Tarapur by JRF-REC-Hisar for research perpose but i m not 100% confirm.So many people in BARC know about this incidence.

  3. Report this comment

    DEVI PANDEY said:

    LEGAL ASPECTS: The Atomic Energy Act ,1962(33 of 1962) section-17,Section-21 benificial in this case.
    The Radiation Protection Rule 2004,rule no.13- acco. to this rule “Deliberate addition of Radioactive Material in Etables shall not permitted.,The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act-2010,Chapter-one-g,second,three, 9,four section-14,15,18 Chapter six ,section -39 quite benificial for affected person.
    BOOK FOR PHYSICIANS:Hand book for Medical Management of Radiation Injury,AERB,IAEA-Safety Seriese No-2,4,5,are very benificial.TECHIQUE FOR DR LSA,Biodosimetry,Chelating agents,Herbal and Chemical Radioprotectants.

  4. Report this comment

    DEVI PANDEY said:

    I Requested all world Drs.kindly help the individual regarding Sr-90 excess in take and medical management.thanks mobile-09968210259,14 a, East Arjun Nagar ,Delhi-32,

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