Russia’s State-owned Rosatom nuclear energy group is to establish a nuclear research and technology centre (NRTC) in Bolivia. The contract was signed in Vienna, Austria, on September 19, between Rosatom group company State Specialised Design Institute and the Bolivian Nuclear Energy Agency (known as ABEN, its Spanish acronym). The project will cost more than $300-million. On the same day, in the same place, the Russian and Paraguay governments signed an agreement on cooperating in the peaceful uses of nuclear technology. Both ceremonies took place during the 61st General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is based in Vienna.
Bolivia has been a member of the IAEA since 1963 and the NRTC will be centred on a 200 kW research reactor. It will be located in the city of El Alto, which lies at an altitude of 4 100 m above sea level. This will make the new reactor’s altitude the highest in the world. (In comparison, South Africa’s Safari-1 research reactor has an output of 20 MW and lies a little more than 1 200 m above sea level.)
“We offer Bolivia not just the construction of the highest-altitude nuclear science centre in the world; we offer our partners cutting-edge technologies,” affirmed Rosatom deirector-general Alexey Likhachev. “The implementation of this project will allow Bolivia to become a regional leader in nuclear research.” Once the centre is operational, it will allow Bolivia to widely apply radiation technologies in many areas, including agriculture, industry and medicine.
The reactor will be water-cooled, and the NRTC will include a cyclotron, a radiopharmacology complex, a multipurpose gamma installation for experimental purposes, a number of laboratories and engineering facilities. Rosatom will also develop the nuclear infrastructure, train the scientific and engineering personnel, and provide operational and maintenance support throughout the lifetime of the facility. It will also cooperate scientifically with the new Bolivian centre.
“Based on the results of the previously concluded contract for preliminary engineering studies, we have confirmed the suitability of the site and, shortly, together with our Bolivian colleagues, we will proceed with practical measures for the construction of the centre,” he reported. The commissioning of the NRTC’s initial facilities is scheduled for 2019 and it will have a planned operational life of 50 years, at which point the reactor could be given a life-extending upgrade.
On the Russian side, the contract negotiations were led by Rusatom Overseas, with participation of representatives of other Rosatom Group companies, including Rusatom – International Network, Rusatom Service, Rusatom Healthcare (in all these cases, Rusatom is the correct spelling) and nuclear reactor design subsidiary NIKIET. Rosatom has already built more than 120 research reactors in Russia and other countries. The group reported that the international nuclear market in nonenergy products and technologies is “growing strongly”. Currently, there are 245 research reactors operating in more than 50 countries, of which 58 are in Russia.
The contract was signed by ABEN general executive director Hortensia Jiménez Rivera and SSDI director-general Vyacheslav Galushkov, observed by Likhachev and Bolivian Energy Vice-Minister Luis Alberto Echazú.
Likhachev signed the agreement with Paraguay on behalf of Russia, while, for Paraguay, it was signed by National Radiological and Nuclear Control Agency (acronymed to ARRN in Spanish) Minister and Executive Secretary César Cardozo Román. ARRN is Paraguay’s nuclear regulatory agency, established in 2014. The agreement is intended to allow the development of a memorandum of understanding signed between Rosatom and ARRN last October by providing a legal framework for the peaceful nuclear cooperation between the two countries.