The United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced that Jamaica completed the conversion of its research reactor to low enriched uranium this month, decreasing proliferation risks and making the Caribbean region completely free of highly enriched uranium.
The conversion of the so-called (Safe Low-Power Kritical Experiment) SLOWPOKE reactor was part of a joint effort between Jamaica and the United States Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration with support from the UN atomic watchdog.
The research reactor, the only one in the Caribbean, has operated at the University of West Indies for over 30 years. Jamaican scientists plan to expand research work related to food safety, food security, water and air quality.
The 32 year old research reactor is used for Neutron Activation Analysis (NAA), a method for determining which chemical elements comprise a material by bombarding the material with neutrons. This research has informed environmental, agricultural and health related studies as well as mineral exploration, and contributed to increased food safety, food security and water and air quality in Jamaica.
The conversion of this reactor is part of global efforts, supported by the IAEA, to minimize the risks associated with the civilian use of highly enriched uranium, while maintaining scientific research capabilities and the operating performance of research reactor facilities.
Highly enriched uranium can be a nuclear proliferation and security concern because it can eventually be used for producing material used for nuclear weapons.
Last July the Jamaican Parliament adopted the Nuclear Safety and Radiation Act, which provides a legal framework for the regulation of activities, practices and facilities involving radiation and nuclear technology.
It is aimed at protecting human health and the environment while harnessing the benefits of nuclear technology. Also included in this law is a provision for the establishment of a national regulatory body, which will be known as the Hazardous Substances Regulatory Authority.