Ghana has again made history by being the first African country to successfully undergo a nuclear research reactor conversion from a Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) sensitive fuel, to a Lower Enriched Uranium (LEU) sensitive one.
The conversion, which was done by a joint team of scientists from the United States (US) Security Department and China, saw the installation of a new nuclear research reactor core to replace the existing one which had over-lived its expiry date.
Professor Kwame Aboh, the Deputy Director-General of the Nuclear Regulatory Authority, and Project Director of the Reactor Conversion Programme, expressed his joy and satisfaction to the success of the conversion and installation.
He explained that the previous set-up, was enriched with as high as 92.2 per cent of Uranium, which made it very dangerous, and very useful for the manufacturing of dangerous weapons should they fall into the wrong hands.
However, with the new LEU research reactor the enrichment level had been lowered to 13 per cent of Uranium, and now highly safe to perform the same functions as the previous one, except for the manufacturing of any dangerous weapon, and had a fuel expecting to last for over 25 years.
He said the entire process was very historic and a great relief to the country, because the previous research reactor which was installed in 1994 had been operated for the past 21 years, and exceeded its uranium fuel expiry which was supposed to be between 10 to 15 years and therefore needed to be upgraded.
The entire project had been fully paid for by the US Government as part of the efforts under the Global Threat Reduction Initiative, to ensure the conversion of all civilian nuclear reactors from HEU to LEU fuels for safety and security.
He said the old reactor core would therefore be repatriated to the Chinese manufacturers as per the initial procurement agreement for its final disposal, which was a great financial and security relief to Ghana, because the nation would have spent fortunes on protecting its nuclear waste.
Prof. Aboh said Ghana’s small reactor had been used mainly for research and training purposes, out of which about 20 PhD students had been produced, and had also been very beneficial to local industries by analysing their products to ensure high quality and standards.
Prof. Benjamin J. Nyarko, the Director General of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC), said the conversion was also in line with the country’s current Nuclear Power Programme and also for being a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which was against the production of dangerous weapons, and also the global-set reduction initiative.
He thanked the US government for the support, saying the new nuclear research reactor, with its over 40-year life plan, would contribute immensely to the development of the country.
Mr John G. Stevens, the Department Manager and Principal Nuclear Engineer for Research and Test Reactors at the Argonne National Laboratory, USA, who led the team of scientist in the conversion process, congratulated Ghana for availing itself for the programme.
He said similar conversions had already been done for other Russian and Chinese manufactured HEU reactors in Europe and now Ghana, adding that the next country for such a conversion would be Nigeria, followed by Pakistan, Syria and Iran, whose representative were also present to understudy the historic conversion.
He explained that although Ghanaian scientists were fully involved in the process and the fabrication works done by local engineers, the fuel design contract was executed by the Chinese experts.
He said Ghana had again benefited from its pioneering role in the conversion programme in Africa with the construction of a resource centre for providing training for both local and international scientists.