HEU from three Japanese sites transported to USA

24 May 2022

More than 30 kilograms of highly-enriched uranium (HEU) has been removed from three Japanese research sites and sent to the USA for downblending or disposal, the US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced.

In cooperation with Savannah River National Laboratory, University of Tokyo technical experts practice procedures for highly enriched uranium packaging at the Yayoi research reactor (Image: University of Tokyo)

In an operation taking four years to complete, all the HEU has now been removed from the University of Tokyo's Yayoi research reactor and the Japan Atomic Energy Agency's Deuterium Critical Assembly and Japan Research Reactor 4. The shipment of the HEU to the USA was completed in March.

The NNSA and Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology worked together on the removal as part of their mutual non-proliferation goal of reducing HEU around the world. The shipment was undertaken in close cooperation with the UK's Nuclear Transport Solutions and Civil Nuclear Constabulary.

The HEU was securely transported to the Savannah River Site in Aiken, South Carolina, and the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. It will be downblended to low-enriched uranium and/or dispositioned, permanently reducing the risk it could be used to produce an improvised nuclear device.

The removal fulfills a commitment first announced at a 2018 US-Japan Bilateral Commission on Civil Nuclear Cooperation meeting in Tokyo.

"This HEU removal is the result of years of close cooperation and hard work - made all the more challenging by the pandemic and travel restrictions. It speaks to the strong bilateral relationship between the United States and Japan," said NNSA Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Non-proliferation Corey Hinderstein. "Permanently eliminating nuclear material that could be used in a weapon is just one of the ways NNSA and its international partners help make the world a safer place every day."

To date, the NNSA has removed or confirmed the disposition of nearly 7270 kilograms of weapons-usable nuclear material - enough material for approximately 325 nuclear weapons.

The announcement of the removal of the HEU from Japan came during a visit to the country by US President Joe Biden. Meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, the two leaders "reaffirmed their intent to work together toward a world without nuclear weapons," a joint statement said. "In particular, they affirmed their commitment to strengthen the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons as the cornerstone of the international nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament regime."

Biden and Kishida also said they recognised the importance of nuclear energy "as a critical and reliable source of carbon-free electricity and process heat. To this end, they committed to greater nuclear energy collaboration and to accelerating the development and global deployment of advanced and small modular reactors by jointly using export promotion and capacity building tools. The two leaders also concurred to work together to create more resilient nuclear supply chains, including uranium fuel, for both existing and new reactors."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News