Hungary joins HEU-free club

05 November 2013

The final consignment of high-enriched uranium (HEU) has been shipped from Hungary to Russia, making the country the 12th nation from which all HEU has been removed since 2009.

Hungarian HEU shipment (NNSANews)_460
The HEU was removed from Hungary by air (Image: NNSANews)

Three secure air shipments completed the removal of the final 49.2 kg of HEU from the Atomic Energy Research Institute in Budapest under an international program involving the USA, Russia and Hungary and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Previous shipments in 2008, 2009 and 2012 returned a total of 190 kg of HEU from Hungary to Russia. The HEU will be downblended for use in nuclear power plants.

Many of the world's research reactors like the Budapest Research Reactor were built to run on fuel enriched to over 20% uranium-235. However, such HEU fuel could also potentially be used to make a nuclear weapon and is therefore seen as a proliferation risk.

Since the late 1970s, international efforts have sought to reduce this risk by converting research reactors to use low enriched uranium (LEU) fuel under the Reduced Enrichment for Research and Test Reactors (RERTR) program and repatriating both used and unused HEU fuel to its country of origin - either the USA or Russia - for secure storage and final disposal. The ongoing project received a boost in 2009 when US president Barack Obama announced further international efforts to secure all of the world's vulnerable nuclear material.

The Budapest reactor was converted to use LEU in 2009. According to the US Department of Energy (DoE), its National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has removed "enough HEU from Hungary for nine nuclear weapons."

US energy secretary Ernest Moniz praised the completion of the Hungarian project. The Hungarian operation would "help to ensure that terrorists never obtain a nuclear weapon," he said.

Hungary joins Austria, Chile, the Czech Republic, Libya, Mexico, Romania, Serbia, Taiwan, Turkey, Ukraine and Vietnam in the list of countries which have seen their HEU inventories removed since 2009. To date, the DoE says it has removed or dispositioned more than 5,000 kilograms of HEU and plutonium from more than 40 countries around the world and has removed all HEU from 25 countries.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News