The US Department of Energy (DOE National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) of Norway have issued a joint statement concerning minimisation of highly enriched uranium (HEU). NNSA and MFA note that the US and Norway have a long history of cooperation on nuclear security and the minimisation of HEU and have made significant advances toward eliminating Norway’s last remaining inventory of HEU since the 2020 International Conference on Nuclear Security.

“NNSA and the MFA affirm their intention to begin, in Norway, the first phase of in-country down-blending of Norway’s inventory of HEU-thorium materials to low-enriched uranium before the end of 2024. It is also the intention of NNSA and the MFA to deploy the Mobile Melt-Consolidate system to Norway as soon as possible, in a manner consistent with Norway’s regulatory framework, to ultimately enable Norway to join the list of HEU-free states.”

In 2021, Norway’s Ministry of Trade, Industry & Fisheries signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to advance a cooperative project to eliminate all of Norway’s HEU by down-blending.

During down-blending, HEU is thoroughly mixed with depleted or natural uranium to reduce the uranium-235 concentration below 20%. The challenge has been that much of Norway’s remaining HEU is mixed with thorium, making other disposition techniques more challenging. The MOU called for small-scale down-blending activities to begin in 2022 using Norway’s existing infrastructure. It also paved the way for the eventual deployment of the Department’s Mobile Melt-Consolidate system, which will complete the work.

The Mobile Melt-Consolidate system is a flexible tool that can treat a wide variety of HEU-bearing materials safely and reliably, including those that are challenging to dispose of by more traditional means. The system enables the treatment of HEU at partner facilities, eliminating the most vulnerable stage in the nuclear materials’ lifecycle – transit – and reducing the amount of material that is returned to the US.