The consignment of 5046 unirradiated HEU assemblies was transported to Belgrade airport under heavy security. The HEU was then sent to the Minatom facility in Dimitrovgrad, where it will be converted to low-enriched uranium (LEU) under the US Department of Energy’s material conversion and consolidation project. The fuel was given to the Vicna Institute by the Soviet Union in 1976 for research purposes.

The total cost of the operation to remove the material will be $3 million, most of which will be covered by a private US group, the Nuclear Threat Initiative, sponsored by the US media mogul, Ted Turner.

A US State Department official said: “We think it creates an excellent precedent for removing HEU from 24 similar research reactors in 16 different countries. There are countries that would like to acquire this uranium for weapons of mass destruction programmes, and we’re going to stop them every place we can.” • In addition, the USA and Russia have announced plans to move approximately 70kg of HEU from the Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Uzbekistan Academy of Sciences in Ulugbek – which houses a 10MW water research reactor – due to the country’s “insufficiently guarded borders‚ with neighbouring states Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan.” The head of Minatom, Nikolai Shingarev, confirmed that the joint operation will go ahead within the “next month or two”, but he gave no further details.

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