US-origin HEU returned from South Africa

19 August 2011

A shipment of highly-enriched uranium (HEU) from South Africa's Safari 1 research reactor has been returned to the USA. It is the latest milestone in the reactor's conversion to using low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel.


Safari 1 research reactor (Necsa)
Safari 1 (Image: Necsa)
The reactor - operated by South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) - was originally built to use fuel containing HEU. However, non-proliferation concerns have, over recent years, led a drive to convert research reactors to LEU fuel - that is, fuel containing less than 20% uranium-235 (U-235). Conversion of the 20 MW Safari 1 reactor at Necsa's Pelindaba facility to LEU fuel was completed in June 2009.


At Safari 1, this proliferation proofing has been taken a step further, with the introduction of LEU-based targets for isotope production, making it the world's first commercial producer of molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) using a fully converted LEU production process. The first radioisotopes produced at Safari 1 from LEU targets were shipped to international customers in July 2010, and the first major commercial shipment, to the USA, took place in December 2010.


The US Department of Energy's National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA) has now announced that a shipment of 6.3 kg of US-origin HEU from Safari 1 arrived in the USA on 16 August. It is being held in secure storage pending disposition.


The shipment was made under NNSA's Global Threat Reduction Initiative, which aims to reduce and secure vulnerable radioactive materials held at civilian sites around the world. Since the late 1970s, international efforts have sought to convert research reactors to LEU fuel under the Reduced Enrichment for Research and Test Reactors program and repatriating used and unused HEU fuel to its country of origin - either the USA or Russia - for secure storage and ultimately disposal.


The NNSA said that it has worked with international partners to remove, or assist with the disposition of 3091 kg of HEU and plutonium. This includes the removal of 1249 kg of US-origin HEU from sites around the world.


Researched and written

by World Nuclear News