The last 'significant' amount of highly enriched uranium (HEU) research reactor fuel in Turkey has now been returned to the USA for secure storage, the US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has announced.
WISE Amsterdam - The return of the 5.4 kilograms of HEU fuel is part of the NNSA's Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), which the NNSA claims has now removed all significant amounts of HEU from 17 countries. According to NNSA, the removal of HEU eliminates potentially weapons-usable material from civilian sites, resulting in a permanent threat reduction.
The material was removed in cooperation with the Turkish Atomic Energy Authority (TAEK) and the Cekmece Nuclear Research and Training Center. TAEK took delivery of the French-made low-enriched fuel it needs to power its reactor in November 2009, and the HEU fuel was formally shipped on 14 December that year. The HEU fuel was packaged into an internationally licensed transport cask before being transported under armed convoy from the reactor site to a nearby port for onward shipment to the USA.
The amount of fuel needed to power a research reactor can be measured in terms of kilograms of uranium rather than the tonnes of low-enriched uranium fuel needed in a power reactor but it is higher in fissile uranium-235. This, in turn, makes it a potential nuclear proliferation risk - HEU fuel could theoretically be used to make a crude nuclear weapon. Since the late 1970s, international efforts have been under way to ensure that the world's research reactors would use fuel enriched to lower levels.
Most research reactors using HEU fuel were supplied by the USA and Russia. In 1978 the USA launched its Reduced Enrichment for Research and Test Reactors (RERTR) program, with the aim of converting reactors using HEU fuels to lower enrichment fuels where technically feasible or practical. Today, RETR comes under the auspices of the NNSA's GTRI, which works to remove Russian- and US-origin fresh and used HEU fuel to its country of origin.
Israeli HEU returned too
The NNSA announcement trumpeting the return of the Turkish HEU omitted to mention a simultaneous delivery of US-origin HEU fuel from Israel. As reported in Frank Munger's Atomic City Underground blog, the NNSA confirmed a report by Friends of the Earth's (FoE's) Tom Clements that a shipment of 102 used fuel assemblies from Israel had been returned to the USA under the GTRI. Munger noted that an NNSA spokesperson confirmed that the Israeli shipment arrived at Savannah River in January, "in conjunction with a US-origin fuel return from Turkey," but would give no further details. It would seem likely that the material came from the 5 kWt Israeli Research Reactor 1 (IRR-1), which was built under the Atoms for Peace program and has been operational since 1960. A total of 19 kg HEU reactor fuel was shipped from the US to Israel from 1960-1975. The majority of the material was fuel for the IRR-1. This pool-type reactor began operating in June 1960 and is used for on-line isotope seperation, training and activation analyses.
The Israeli Research Reactor-1 is located at the Soreq Nuclear Research Center (about 35 miles south of Tel Aviv) and was also purchased from the U.S. The center was built in the late 1950s. According to NTI Israel profile it is widely believed that the main function of Soreq research center in recent years has been to conduct nuclear weapon research and design.
Conversion of reactors to run on lower enriched fuel has necessitated the development of suitable fuels for the different specifications of reactors around the world, work which is still ongoing. According to NNSA estimates, some 78 research reactors have a defence-related mission or are of a unique design and are not convertible to LEU fuels. The NNSA aims to have all the other reactors using HEU fuels converted to LEU by 2018.
Source: World Nuclear News, 14 January 2010 / Appendix I, Agreements with foreign countries. Available at: http://www.fas.org/sgp/othergov/doe/heu/appe.pdf / NTI Israel country profile: http://www.nti.org/e_research/profiles/Israel/Nuclear/3583.html
Contact: WISE International