Five Belgian companies have set up CYCLADE (CYCLotrons Advanced DEcommissioning) as a centre of expertise for decommissioning accelerators and cyclotrons. The companies include IBA, Interboring, IRE, SCK-CEN and Transrad. They are all specialists in dismantling and nuclear medicine and will offer operators a circular solution for increasing the amount of waste recycled. The consortium is a combination of industrial companies, SMEs and research centres. They will provide a turnkey decommissioning solution from the study phases to the final management of materials.

The oldest facilities began operating more than 30 years ago. It is estimated that approximately 200 medical cyclotron facilities worldwide will be awaiting dismantling by 2040. This will require processing 18,000 tonnes of steel and other metals in the most sustainable way possible.

IBA (Ion Beam Applications), based in Louvain-la-Neuve, specialises in particle acceleration technology applied to medicine and is the leading supplier of equipment and services in the field of proton therapy. IBA is also a key player in the fields of industrial sterilisation, radiopharmacy and dosimetry. The company employs more than 1,800 people worldwide.

Interboring is a Limburg-based family business founded in 1983. It specialising in drilling and cutting concrete and metal, including activated or contaminated items, using industrial diamond drilling and sawing techniques. Interboring has 30 years of experience in the nuclear sector. It has worked with all the nuclear authorities in Belgium, including the Doel and Tihange NPPs, the SCK CEN research and the ONDRAF/NIRAS radioactive waste storage and management authority.

IRE (National Institute for Radioelements) is a public utility foundation, whose main activity is the production of radio-isotopes for nuclear medicine. Its subsidiary IRE ELiT, founded in 2010, develops radiopharmaceuticals used for the imaging and treating cancers. IRE also contributes to the environmental protection through measurement and monitoring of radioactivity using both on-site measurements and laboratory analyses. IRE has experience in the radiological characterisation of accelerators and their bunkers in facilities to be decommissioned and the radioactive waste produced. IRE and IRE ELiT employ 250 people.

SCK-CEN is one of Belgium’s largest research institutions employing more than 850 employees. Its research activities focus on three main areas: the safety of nuclear facilities, the development of nuclear medicine, and protecting people and the environment from ionising radiation. SCK CEN shares its knowledge worldwide through countless publications and training courses.

Transrad is the largest transporter of radioactive and nuclear materials in Belgium and has been active in the transport and logistics of radioactive and nuclear materials since 1988. This includes all modes of transport (road, rail, air and sea). The company employs 40 people. More than 4,000 shipments are carried out each year for: the nuclear fuel cycle; the nuclear medicine supply chain; and high or low activity radioactive sources used in industry. Transrad has storage capacity for radioactive materials (two class II sites approved by the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control) as well as a class 7 transport interruption capacity for 15 days on a secure site in Fleurus. The company continues to develop its fleet of packaging for radioactive and nuclear materials.

CYCLADE is necessary because the era of nuclear decommissioning and dismantling is imminent. Most of the first accelerators installed in the medical field 30-40 years ago are now reaching the end of their life span. There will be an estimated 50 decommissioning projects by 2030 and 200 by 2040, according to SCK-CEN. "And it doesn't stop there. In 2021, the global medical cyclotron market reached a value of $192.6m. This figure is expected to rise to $323m by 2027, showing that the demand for decommissioning is far from reaching its peak," says SCK-CEN Senior Business Development Manager Guido Mulier. "In addition, we are looking together for better dismantling techniques, for example by testing whether we can recycle radioactive materials with melting furnaces."

Medical accelerator operators are forced to decommission and dismantle their cyclotrons because older equipment cannot always be upgraded. Some components or the entire machine are simply too old. Decommissioning in a radioactive environment is difficult but in a medical environment it is even more complex. "There are many constraints associated with the operation of a building where patients are treated, such as a hospital. Add to this the still open questions about the optimal recycling of all decommissioned materials, and you have a huge challenge," explains Gilles Degauque, General Manager of Transrad.

Grégory Delécaut, head of the IRE Lab department, comments: "The CYCLADE consortium offers a solution to the unprecedented challenge of dismantling cyclotrons. It benefits from the wide range of know-how and the unique consolidated experience of a consortium of world-renowned Belgian organisations." Jos Spilstijns, CEO of Interboring, says collaboration between the five partners “creates a one-stop shop for the market looking for an integrated solution for the dismantling of cyclotrons and other particle accelerators”.

IBA CEO Olivier Legrain says IBA's participation in CYCLADE “reflects our commitment to take into account systematically the consequences for societies of our activities and the interests of all our stakeholders (patients, shareholders, employees, customers, suppliers, the community, the planet, etc.)." He adds: "Integrating the issue of dismantling and waste management into the very design of our accelerators is part of this approach, which is formalised in our B Corp certification."

According to SCK-CEN, CYCLADE ensures that the operator is not alone. It offers a comprehensive circular solution for the dismantling of accelerators/cyclotrons and their concrete bunkers with the aim of finding the optimal solutions in order to reduce radioactive and conventional waste. This includes an environmentally and economically sound strategy, the appropriate administrative workflow, safety in dismantling work and nuclear transport. A special feature of this partnership is that the decommissioning/dismantling processes will determine the design of future cyclotrons. By combining the strengths of all the partners, the design of future devices can be optimised so that future decommissioning is more efficient and less costly.

Image: Inside the CYCLADE decommissioning centre for accelerators and cyclotrons (courtesy of SCK-CEN)

Date: Wednesday, 22 March 2023
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