U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham and Russian atomic energy minister Alexander Rumyantsev issued a joint statement Nov. 7 pledging to cooperate in retrieving Soviet- and Russian-supplied weapons-grade nuclear fuel from 20 research reactors in 17 countries.
According to Abraham, the agreement “reaffirms our common objective of reducing, and to the extent possible, ultimately eliminating the use of highly-enriched uranium (HEU) in civil nuclear activity.” U.S. and Russian authorities working with the International Atomic Energy Agency will return weapons-usable HEU from foreign research reactors to Russia. The initiative will also provide assistance to reactor operators to convert their facilities so they can be fueled with proliferation-resistant low-enriched uranium.
This bilateral program builds upon previous efforts to retrieve nuclear fuel from insecure sites. Authorities retrieved 48 kg of fuel from a reactor in Serbia in August 2002 and removed 14 kg of weapons-grade uranium from a defunct Romanian research reactor in September 2003. (See ACT, October 2003.)
A government-to-government agreement outlining the specific reactors and the timeline for action will be signed in late November or early December, Rumyantsev said Nov. 7.