HEU Nuclear Material Removed from Czech Research Reactor

IAEA safeguards inspectors seal the highly enriched uranium in transport containers before it is flown to Russia where it will be processed so it can not be used in a nuclear bomb. (Photo credit: IAEA)

Fourteen kilograms of highly enriched uranium (HEU) that could be used to assemble a nuclear weapon have been safely returned to the Russian Federation from the Czech Republic. The mission was a joint effort between the IAEA, the United States, the Czech Republic and Russia, as part of the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI). The aim of the GTRI is to identify, secure and recover high-risk vulnerable nuclear and radiological materials around the world.

IAEA safeguards inspectors monitored and verified the packing of the HEU for transport on 26-27 September 2005 from a research reactor at the Czech Technical University, Prague. The shipment and all related logistics were arranged by the IAEA, as part of its technical cooperation activities. The fuel-removal was funded by the United States Department of Energy.

The fresh HEU fuel was airlifted under guard from an airport near Prague, Czech Republic, to a secure facility in Dimitrovgrad, Russia. There, it will be down-blended to low enriched uranium that can not be used for an atomic bomb.

The nuclear fuel was originally supplied to the Czech Republic by the former Soviet Union for use in a Russian designed multi-purpose research reactor operated at the Czech Technical University for education and training of physics and engineering students.

Over the past two years the IAEA has supported similar operations in other countries including Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, Bulgaria, Uzbekistan, Latvia and a previous shipment from the Czech Republic to transfer HEU reactor fuel back to its country of origin.

More than 100 research reactors around the world still run on weapons-grade HEU. The Agency is working with its Member States to convert their research reactors from HEU to using proliferation-resistant lower enriched fuel.

In conjunction with the US-initiated GTRI and other programmes, the Agency is helping to reduce and eventually eliminate international commerce in HEU for use in research reactors or critical assemblies. As part of its efforts, the IAEA also assists Member States to upgrade physical security and improve overall safety of their research reactors. A particular focus is on ageing or shut down reactors and their spent fuel storage facilities.

Last update: 12 November 2014