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    65 years after the first nuclear reaction in the country, Argentina seeks to have RA-10 ready by 2024

    January 18, 2023 - CE Noticias Financieras


      Sixty-five years after the first controlled nuclear reaction in Latin America was carried out in Argentina with the RA-1 reactor -built by local scientists and with its own technology-, work is underway to assemble the RA-10, a reactor to supply and export radioisotopes for medical use, which will be operational by the end of 2024. In November 1956, the National Atomic Energy Commission (CNEA) announced that Argentina would buy a nuclear reactor, but the transaction was delayed and the then Captain Oscar Quihillalt obtained the plans of a small experimental reactor that had been inaugurated at the Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago and brought them to the country. On April 9, 1957, it was decided that the CNEA would build the first Argentine nuclear research reactor on the premises of the General Directorate of Military Manufacturing, in Constituyentes and General Paz, in the Buenos Aires suburbs. "At the beginning they didn't let them participate in the experiments. Until they found a problem in the register of the reactor they were testing, and after that they were allowed to attend the practices. And they learned a lot," said electronics engineer Hugo Scolari, who has been head of RA-1 for four decades, in a statement released by the organization. The Argentine scientists worked from 12 to 18 hours a day to build the reactor; the process lasted only nine months and the first test began on January 16, 1958. According to the scientists at the time, at the beginning it seemed that there was not enough uranium to reach criticality, but they solved the problem by changing the position of the fuel elements, placing those containing more uranium in the center. Thus, the self-sustained nuclear chain reaction was achieved at 6:30 a.m. on January 17, 1958 and was the first in Latin America. Brazil inaugurated its reactor five days later. But three days later, the reactor was officially inaugurated and named after Enrico Fermi, the scientist who developed the world's first artificial nuclear reactor in 1942. It is still used today for human resources training; extensive outreach activities; neutron activation testing of materials; studies of radiation damage, for example, in metals that will later become part of Power Reactors, and the development of a revolutionary therapy in nuclear medicine to treat certain types of cancer, called BNCT (Boron Neutron Capture Therapy). "The RA-1 was the beginning of the Argentine nuclear career and today it is in service thanks to the technological, scientific, human and management capabilities of our country and its people; the same capabilities that today allow the development of the RA-10", highlighted from the Department of Experimental Reactors and Services of CNEA (GRyCN - GAEN), led by Fabián Moreira and integrated by Juan Manuel Politano, Florencia Parrino and Agustina González. And they continued: "This is history entering into dialogue with the present, to build the future. The RA-1 is the seed that was sown in 1957 and appeared in 1958, giving rise to the current ecosystem of nuclear excellence that today leads our country". The RA-10, which is under construction, will replace the RA-3 reactor (which began operating in 1967 and will continue to operate for academic purposes) to supply Argentina and other countries with radioisotopes for medical, industrial and agricultural use. The project manager of the National Atomic Energy Commission (CNEA), Herman Blaumann, explained to Télam last May that "one out of every one hundred Argentines per year requires a SPECT study with a Gamma camera, as, for example, when a scintigraphy is performed. These studies are performed with a radioisotope called molybdenum, which is produced in the RA-3 reactor". In addition to ensuring the self-supply of radioisotopes, it is estimated that the RA-10 will be operational at a strategic moment of great demand worldwide because in 2025 several reactors in other countries will go out of service due to the end of their useful life. "We intend to capture 20 percent of the world market", foresees Blaumann, who considered that "it is an export with a high added value that could bring in around 50 million dollars per year". The new facility will have laboratories for testing nuclear fuels and for studies with neutron techniques in different disciplines such as biology, chemistry, paleontology, physics, geology, pharmacology and materials science. This is possible because the reactor will generate neutrons, which are particles whose properties make it possible to question the structure of matter in a non-invasive way and to know its state or characteristics at the molecular level through neutron diffraction. Another of the many applications will be in the area of paleontology, since the LAHN will be able to observe fossils without the need to remove them from the rock or surrounding material, which saves time and minimizes the risk of deterioration. The LAHN will have applications in industry through the analysis of wear, cracks and stresses in, for example, the rails of a train to predict where it may fail or break and calculate when it should be replaced. In the scientific field, given that there are very few laboratories of this type in the southern hemisphere, the LAHN will attract international researchers, which will make it possible to generate scientific collaboration agreements and the exchange of instruments between countries. In terms of safety, the complex complies with international standards and the national regulations of the Nuclear Regulatory Authority. "This is an experimental reactor of 30 megawatts, its power is many times lower than that of a power plant used to generate electricity," Blaumann pointed out. Regarding deadlines, it is expected that in March the civil works of RA-10 will be completed and one year later the construction will be finished to start up in December 2024. (Télam)


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