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Removal of High-Enriched Uranium in Libyan Arab Jamahiriya

Signing of Fuel Transfer Agreement

Dr. Gashut of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Mr. Yamashita of the IAEA and Dr. Smirnov of Russia sign the fuel transfer agreement. (Credit: M. Samiei/IAEA)

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The IAEA this week assisted Libyan authorities with the removal of weapons-grade highly enriched uranium (HEU) stored at a research reactor facility on the outskirts of Tripoli. IAEA inspectors monitored and verified the packing of the HEU for transport and removal on 8 March.

The HEU, 80% enriched and in the form of fresh fuel, is in fuel assemblies containing about 13 kg of fissile uranium-235, as well as about 3 kg of uranium. It was airlifted from the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya to the Russian Federation. HEU is a safeguarded fissile material that fuels nuclear reactors for research and electricity production but can also be processed and used to make a nuclear weapon.

Russia agreed to take back the HEU and was the original supplier in the 1980s for the 10-megawatt reactor and critical facility at the Tajoura Nuclear Research Centre near Tripoli. Russia intends to blend down the HEU into low-enriched uranium (LEU), making it unsuitable for a nuclear weapon.

The $700,000 fuel-removal was funded by the United States Department of Energy under a cooperative US-Russia-IAEA programme called the Tripartite Initiative, which addresses safety and proliferation risks. The Tripartite Initiative returns fresh and spent fuel from Russian designed reactors abroad.

The Libyan fuel removal and transfer operation was arranged by the Agency as part of its technical cooperation activities to enhance the safety of research reactors and nuclear materials. In the past year and a half the IAEA has assisted Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, and Bulgaria to transfer HEU reactor fuel back to its country of origin.