Conversion of Vietnam's only civilian research reactor to low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel has been completed, with the return of unused high-enriched (HEU) fuel to Russia. The Czech Republic is preparing to send spent HEU back to Russia under the same program.
Vietnam's 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. In the process, approximately 4.5 kg of unused HEU fuel was returned to Russia, where it will be permanently downblended to LEU which cannot be used in nuclear weapons.
The reactor was the 50th to be converted under the Russian-American Reduced Enrichment for Research and Test Reactors (RERTR) program which seeks to increase global security by reducing the number of facilities using HEU, which at some enrichment levels could in theory be used in nuclear weapons. The US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) provided $2.4 million in funding for the operation and is also providing physical protection upgrades at Dalat and at other Vietnamese facilities with radiological sources.
Meanwhile, officials from the Czech Republic and the USA have signed a non-proliferation agreement providing a legal framework for NNSA to carry out similar work there. NNSA is to provide $35 million for the Czech government to transfer 2 tonnes of used HEU fuel from a research reactor at Rez, near Prague, to Russia for reprocessing. The NNSA is currently helping to convert the Rez reactor to LEU fuel.
According to the NNSA, a total of 500 kg of fresh and used HEU fuel have been returned to Russia so far under the Global Threat Reduction Initiative, the equivalent of about 20 nuclear weapons.
National Nuclear Security Administration
WNA's Research Reactors information paper.
WNN: LEU for Vietnamese research reactor
WNN: Vietnam: Research reactor converts to LEU