Over the past four months, 63kg of highly enriched spent uranium (HEU) from Uzbekistan’s WWR-SM-10 reactor has been returned to Russia under the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI). Most of the material was enriched to 90% and was used in the 10MWt tank reactor for research and to produce medical isotopes.

Pablo Adelfang, the IAEA’s crosscutting coordinator for research reactors, said: “There was particular concern about the Uzbek spent fuel given its significant quantity and that it was no longer ‘self-protecting’.”┬áThe fuel had lost its high radioactivity and “it would no longer injury anyone who handled it and would not deter potential thieves.”

Russia, Kazakhstan, the USA, Uzbekistan and the IAEA cooperated in secret for six years before making four shipments from the Uzbekistan Institute of Nuclear Physics near Tashkent to Russia’s Chelyabinsk facility for reprocessing: 9.5kg (64 assemblies) in January; 12.6kg (64 assemblies) in February; 14.8kg (64 assemblies) in March; a shipment of 25.6kg (60 assemblies) completed the project this month. The materials were packed in Russian TK-19 casks and moved under the tightest security.

The GTRI programme has so far returned 186kg of HEU supplied to Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Libya, Romania, Serbia and Uzbekistan during the Soviet era but this is the first return since Presidents Bush and Putin agreed last year to prioritise the GTRI schedule. All research reactor fuel stored outside the core should be returned by either 2006 or 2010, depending on priority.

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