Almost 74 kg of Russian-origin highly enriched uranium (HEU) has been removed from Kazakhstan, the US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced.
|Casks of HEU wait to be transported from Kazakhstan's Institute of Nuclear Physics (Image: NNSA)
The HEU - used research reactor fuel - was removed from Kazakhstan's Institute of Nuclear Physics and returned to Russia by rail for storage at a secure nuclear facility in a series of four shipments between December 2008 and May 2009. Each shipment was packaged into Russian TUK-19 transportation casks that were loaded into TK-5 railroad cars and transported under armed guard. The return of the 73.7 kg of HEU to Russia was conducted under the NNSA’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) program.
NNSA Administrator Thomas D'Agostino said, "The shipment of highly enriched uranium from Kazakhstan continues the outstanding cooperation between NNSA and Government of Kazakhstan and is an important step forward in our national and global security."
This is the first Russian-origin HEU spent fuel removal project to be completed under the GTRI since US President Barack Obama outlined his nuclear security agenda in a speech in Prague in April.
D'Agostino commented, "The President has announced his intention to expand global threat reduction efforts aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and reducing the threat posed by unsecured or excess nuclear materials. This effort is a cornerstone of nuclear security agenda. We look forward to building on this success with Kazakhstan through continued cooperation in future projects that meet the non-proliferation goals of our countries and the international community.”
The NNSA noted, "With the successful completion of this shipment, a total of approximately 838 kg (1884 pounds) of Russian-origin HEU spent and fresh have been returned from Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Libya, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Uzbekistan and Vietnam."
The project was carried out under the 2004 Russian-US government agreement on cooperation in removing Russian-made nuclear fuel from research reactors to Russia. The primary goal of the Russian Research Reactor Fuel Return (RRRFR) program is to eliminate HEU stockpiles and persuade eligible countries to convert their research reactors from HEU to low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel upon availability, qualification, and licensing of suitable LEU fuel. Under the RRRFR program, Russia has agreed to take back used and fresh nuclear fuel from research reactors so long as the reactor operators agree to convert the reactors to operate on LEU or shut down. So far, 32 countries have cooperated in the shutdown of a total of 62 HEU-fuelled research reactors and most recently, reactors in Argentine, Ukraine and South Africa have been converted to run on LEU.
The RRRFR program intends to move 2 tonnes of HEU and 2.5 tonnes of LEU used fuel to the Mayak plant over the ten years to 2012. The program envisages 38 shipments (of both fresh and used fuel) from ten countries over 2005-08, then eight or more shipments from six countries to remove all HEU fuel discharged before reactors are converted to LEU or shut down. Seventeen countries have Soviet-supplied research reactors, and there are 25 such reactors outside Russia, 15 of them still operational.