Czech Republic now HEU-free

08 April 2013

With the completion of the final shipment of used fuel from the research reactor at Rez to Russia, all highly enriched uranium (HEU) has now been removed from the Czech Republic.

Czech HEU casks (NNSA) 460
Casks containing used HEU fuel from the Rez research reactor are loaded into shipping containers for their journey to Russia (Image: NNSA)

The removal of 68kg of used HEU fuel from the research reactor at Rez, near Prague, to Russia was recently completed, the US National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA) announced. The "complex operation was the culmination of a multi-year effort" by the NNSA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, NRI Rez and Russia's state nuclear corporation Rosatom.

The fuel - transported in casks made by Czech engineering company Skoda - was sent by truck, rail and ship, via Poland to Russia. It arrived in Russia on 1 April. The fuel will be downblended into low-enriched uranium (LEU) for use in commercial power reactors.

The HEU fuel was originally provided to the then-Czechoslovakia by the USSR to produce radioisotopes for medical, industrial and research purposes. A significant part of the fuel was irradiated in the Rez research reactor while the rest remained in stock as fresh fuel.

Two shipments of fresh HEU fuel (of 6kg and 12kg respectively) from the Rez research reactor back to Russia were completed in 2004 and 2010, while one (of 14kg) from the Czech Technical University in Prague was completed in 2005. A shipment of 80kg of used fuel from the Rez reactor was completed in 2007.

Governmental agreements

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 2500kg of HEU fuel. So far it has imported some 790kg of fresh fuel and 1208kg of used fuel.

The project is part of the NNSA's Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI). This is the sixth GTRI shipment from the Czech Republic since 2004 and marks the complete removal of some 180kg of HEU from the country. GTRI also worked with the NRI Rez to convert the research reactor from HEU to LEU and install physical protection upgrades.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News