US backs Ghana to convert her nuclear research reactor

Christabel Addo, GNA

Accra, July 14, GNA –
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

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

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.


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