HEU flies back to Russia

04 July 2013

All highly enriched uranium (HEU) has now been removed from Vietnam following the air transport of 11 kilograms of used research reactor fuel back to Russia.

Vietnamese HEU fuel - loading on plane (Sosny) 460
The package containing the HEU fuel is loaded onto a cargo plane for its flight to Russia (Image: Sosny R&D)

The used HEU research reactor fuel came from the Dalat Nuclear Research Institute. It was first transported some 250 kilometres by truck from Dalat to a military airport near Vietnam's capital Ho Chi Minh City. The fuel was then loaded onto an An-124 cargo plane and flown to Russia where it was delivered to the FSUE Mayak Production Association in the Chelyabinsk region. It will be downblended into low enriched uranium (LEU) for use as fuel in power reactors.

The operation to return the Russian-supplied fuel was conducted under the auspices of the US National Nuclear Safety Administration's (NNSA's) Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI). To date, this initiative has removed more than 3600 kilograms of HEU and plutonium from more than 40 countries around the world and has removed all HEU from 24 countries.

This was the second shipment of HEU from Vietnam under the GTRI. Some 4 kilograms of unused fuel for the Dalat research reactor was repatriated to Russia in September 2007.

Unique packaging

The latest shipment marked the first use of the Type C TUK-145/C package, certified for the air shipment of used research reactor fuel. The package comprises of a Skoda VPVR/M cask inserted in an energy-absorbing container designed to absorb dynamic loads in the event of an air crash. The VPVR/M cask used for the shipment was one of ten dual-purpose (storage and shipping) casks procured by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2006 with support from the US Department of Energy.

The package was developed by Russia's Sosny R&D and the Russian Federal Nuclear Centre (VNIIEF). The nuclear and radiation safety department of Russian state nuclear company Rosatom participated in and coordinated the nuclear safety justification and certification of the transport package in Russia.

HEU reduction

The Dalat research reactor has been converted from using HEU fuel at 36% uranium-235, to fuel made from LEU, enriched to under 20%. The LEU fuel for the reactor, a 500 kWt pool-type reactor of Russian VVR-M design, was manufactured by TVEL of Russia at Novosibirsk. The reactor is used for radioisotope production, neutron activation analysis, irradiation and other research purposes.

The project was carried out under a 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 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. Russia plans to receive almost 2500 kilograms of HEU fuel by 2016.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News