WASHINGTON, DC ― Today, the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA) announced the successful return of the final 5 kilograms (approximately 11 pounds) of highly enriched uranium (HEU) spent fuel from the IIN-3M “Foton” research reactor in Tashkent, Uzbekistan to Russia.
This is the eighth shipment of HEU from Uzbekistan since 2004 and marks the removal of all HEU from the country.
Since the Russian Research Reactor Fuel Return program began in 2002, DOE/NNSA has collaborated with the Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation and the Federal Center for Nuclear and Radiation Safety to successfully repatriate more than 2,200 kilograms of Russian-origin HEU from around the world—enough for 88 nuclear weapons.
This includes the complete removal of all Russian-origin HEU from 11 countries. Furthermore, this shipment marks the 28th country overall, plus Taiwan, to have partnered with DOE/NNSA to become free of all HEU.
“This final HEU removal from Uzbekistan under our collaboration with Russia to repatriate Russian-origin fuel marks another step toward the goal of minimizing or eliminating HEU from civil applications,” DOE/NNSA Deputy Administrator Anne Harrington said. “This shipment and our ongoing partnership with Russia and the International Atomic Energy Agency advance global efforts to secure, consolidate and minimize the use of highly enriched uranium so it does not fall into the hands of terrorists.”
The HEU removal announced today was logistically challenging, as it was the first transport of liquid HEU spent fuel by air. The journey began at Uzbekistan’s Foton facility where the material was packaged for road transport to the airport.
It was then loaded into another specialized container for transport by air to a secure facility in Russia. This complex operation was the culmination of a multi-year effort between the DOE/NNSA, Uzbekistan, Russia, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Following this HEU removal, the IAEA will lead efforts to assist Uzbekistan in the decommissioning of the Foton facility with support from DOE/NNSA and the United Kingdom’s Department of Energy and Climate Change.
DOE/NNSA and Uzbekistan share a long history of cooperation on nuclear and radiological security issues. NNSA worked with Uzbekistan’s Institute of Nuclear Physics to convert its research reactor from HEU to low enriched uranium (LEU) fuel and to secure radiological sources that, in the wrong hands, could be used for a dirty bomb.
NNSA also works with INP and Uzbekistan’s State Customs Committee to support Uzbekistan’s capability to detect, deter, and interdict illicit trafficking of special nuclear and other radiological material.
DOE/NNSA’s Office of Material Management and Minimization, which led this effort, plays a critical role in reducing global nuclear security threats through HEU minimization activities, such as converting research reactors and medical isotope production facilities to the use of LEU, removing excess HEU and separated plutonium, and dispositioning HEU and plutonium domestically.
The office also plays an important role in bilateral and multilateral discussions on plutonium management and minimization strategies with international partners.