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– Suzanne DiMaggio
Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
Czech Uranium Removed

William Huntington

The Department of Energy’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) program repatriated 14 kilograms of Soviet-supplied highly enriched uranium (HEU) from a Prague research reactor to a “secure” facility in Russia without incident on Sept. 27. The operation was part of an ongoing U.S.-Russian effort to remove weapons-grade fuel from vulnerable Soviet-era research reactors around the world.

The secret, two-day mission secured unused HEU fuel assemblies from the VR-1 Sparrow reactor on the campus of Czech Technical University. An International Atomic Energy Agency team measured the mass and enrichment level of the fuel and placed special security seals over the large steel transfer casks. Under the cover of darkness, a Czech security team escorted the shipment to the airport where the HEU was officially handed over to Russian authorities.

The HEU was flown to Dimitrovgrad, Russia, where it will be blended down to low-enriched uranium (LEU) suitable for use in reactors but not nuclear weapons.

The VR-1 Sparrow reactor has recently come back online following its conversion to the use of LEU fuel, marking the first full conversion under a joint U.S.-Russian program to convert HEU-fueled research reactors to LEU use.

According to a National Nuclear Security Administration press release, the GTRI program has repatriated 122 kilograms of fresh HEU to Russia in eight shipments. With the Sept. 27 transfer, the second from the Czech Republic, all of that country’s HEU designated for repatriation has been removed.

In Kazakhstan, state-owned uranium producer Kazatomprom and the nonprofit organization Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) completed the blenddown of 2,900 kilograms of uranium reactor fuel. The fresh fuel, enriched up to 26 percent, was created for use in the BN-350 fast-breeder reactor at Aktau, Kazakhstan.