The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, or DOE/NNSA, announced, on September 30th, the successful return of the final 5 kilograms of highly enriched uranium, or HEU, spent fuel from the IIN-3M “Foton” research reactor in Tashkent, Uzbekistan to Russia.
This is the eighth shipment of HEU from Uzbekistan since 2004 and marks the removal of all HEU from the country.
Since the Russian Research Reactor Fuel Return program began in 2002, DOE/NNSA has collaborated with partner countries to successfully repatriate more than 2,200 kilograms of Russian-origin HEU from around the world—enough for nearly 100 nuclear weapons.
This includes the complete removal of all Russian-origin HEU from 11 countries. Furthermore, this shipment marks the 28th country overall, plus Taiwan, to have partnered with DOE/NNSA to become free of all HEU.
The HEU removal was logistically challenging, as it was the first transport of liquid HEU spent fuel by air. The journey began at Uzbekistan’s Foton facility, where the material was packaged for road transport to the airport. It was then loaded into another specialized container for transport by air to a secure facility in Russia.
This complex operation was the culmination of a multi-year effort between the DOE/NNSA, Uzbekistan, Russia, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Following this HEU removal, the IAEA will lead efforts to assist Uzbekistan in the decommissioning of the Foton facility with support from DOE/NNSA and the United Kingdom’s Department of Energy and Climate Change.
“This final HEU removal from Uzbekistan under our collaboration with Russia to repatriate Russian-origin fuel marks another step toward the goal of minimizing or eliminating HEU from civil applications,” said DOE/NNSA Deputy Administrator Anne Harrington.
“This shipment and our ongoing work with Russia and the International Atomic Energy Agency,” she noted, “advance global efforts to secure, consolidate and minimize the use of highly enriched uranium so it does not fall into the hands of terrorists.”