Plant, which will replace ageing HFR, needed for production of crucial medical radioisotopes
The Dutch government has confirmed it will fully finance the cost of a new nuclear research reactor at Petten in the Netherlands.
Minister of health, welfare and sport Ernst Kuipers announced the decision on Tuesday (19 September) for the construction of the Pallas reactor, which is being built to replace the ageing high-flux reactor (HFR).
In September 2022 the government announced it was setting aside financial reserves of €30m ($32m) for the Pallas reactor project in 2022 and €129m a year from 2023 – a move welcomed as “a huge boost” for nuclear medicine, knowledge and innovation.
The government has now approved the remaining investment costs, a decision that was originally expected in spring 2023.
NRG-Pallas, the organisation responsible for the Pallas project, said the decision was a major step towards realising the new reactor.
“With this, the Netherlands will maintain its world position in the production of medical isotopes,” a statement said. “Radioisotopes are essential ingredients for nuclear medicine, for diagnostics and therapy of patients with life-threatening diseases such as cancer.”
The new reactor is also needed for nuclear technological research and will be essential for maintaining nuclear knowledge infrastructure.
Bertholt Leeftink, NRG-Pallas’ chief executive officer, said: “This decision is confirmation that the Pallas reactor is of strategic importance for the Netherlands and Europe.
“It will strengthen the security of medical isotopes supply for nuclear medicine. For patients, it means faster access to innovative cancer treatments.”
Pallas programme director Peter Dijk said the decision means NRG-Pallas can proceed with the preparatory works and begin its search for a contractor.
Preparatory work has begun at the site, but full construction will now go ahead if the Dutch parliament rubber stamps the creation of a new state-owned company and if the European Commission approves public investment in the project. The nuclear regulator, the Authority for Nuclear Safety and Radiation Protection, granted a licence for construction of the Pallas reactor in February.
30,000 Patients A Day Need HFR Radioisotopes
Every day, 30,000 patients depend on the production of medical radioisotopes from the HFR at Petten. Pallas said this number is expected to increase because of the introduction of new treatments with medical radioisotopes from reactors and the growth in the number of patients with cancer and cardiovascular diseases worldwide.
NRG, which operates the HFR on behalf of its owner, the European Union’s Joint Research Centre, and will also operate the new Pallas unit, said the new reactor will mean patients with serious conditions such as cancer and cardiovascular disease can be helped “for many decades”.
In 2012, the Dutch government and the province of Noord-Holland decided that the HFR should be replaced to ensure the supply of medical radioisotopes and the continuation of nuclear research.
In Europe, four reactors are responsible for most medical radioisotope production: the HFR, BR2 in Belgium, LVR15 in the Czech Republic and the Maria reactor in Poland.
NRG has pointed out that the supply chain is vulnerable because little spare capacity is available and ageing reactors require increasing maintenance. It said the unplanned downtime of one of the reactors is “an increasing risk”.
Construction of the new Pallas reactor is “more necessary than ever” and will contribute to strengthening the security of supply of nuclear medicine for health care, NRG said.