Serbian Spent Nuclear Fuel to Move to Russia

Full Project Funding Pledged

During the 53rd IAEA General Conference, delegates from the Russian Federation and Serbia signed a trade contract, laying the groundwork for the final repatriation of spent nuclear fuel from the Serbian Institute for Nuclear Sciences at Vinca to the Russian Federation.

The Foreign Trade Contract (FTC) is a pre-condition for the spent fuel´s envisioned repatriation to Russia, setting out provisions for the safe and secure transport, reprocessing, storage and subsequent disposal of the high-level waste at Russian facilities. The FTC was signed by Mr. Sergey Kazakov, Director of the Russian Federal Centre for Nuclear and Radiation Safety and Mr. Radojica Pesic, General Director of the Serbian Public Company Nuclear Facilities.

Signing an FTC signifies that all funding for the project has been identified. With a price tag of US $25 million, the Vinca project is the largest FTC to date in the Russian Research Reactor Fuel Return Programme. Full funding has been pledged for the project from Serbia and international donors, including the Czech Republic, Russia, USA, IAEA, and the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI). A breakdown of the contributions are as follows (in US $): Serbia, 11 million; USA, 7 million; Russian Federation, 3 million; Czech Republic, 1 million; NT!, 0.1 million; and IAEA; 2.9 million.

These contributions are in addition to the contribution of US $11.1 million from the European Community and US $4.9 million from NTI, which are being directed towards repackaging severely degraded spent nuclear fuel canisters, preparations for shipment, and transport to Russia.

In his comments prior to the signing the FTC, Serbian Deputy Minister Bozidar Djelic welcomed the project´s benefits, neutralizing Vinca´s vulnerability to nuclear terrorism, while also addressing serious environmental concerns.

In turn, US National Nuclear Security Administrator Thomas D´Agostino noted that the signing was important for setting this essential work in motion and as evidence of the concrete benefits for countries that cooperate in strengthening their non-proliferation efforts.

Background

Located on the outskirts of Belgrade, the "Institute for Nuclear Sciences (Vinca)" was set up as a research centre in the former Yugoslavia in the 1950s. A civilian nuclear research reactor loaded with high-enriched uranium was housed at the site. The area was also a central radioactive waste collection and consolidation centre for the former Yugoslavia. For nearly 45 years, all the former Yugoslavia´s dangerous radioactive waste and other radioactive sources were collected. Although the reactor went offline in 1984, the radioactive waste and sources from around the country continued to accumulate. International concern about Vinca mushroomed in the 1990s after the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, which led to increased international cooperation to remediate the site and reduce the radiological risk.

In 2004, the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), a non-governmental organization dedicated to non-proliferation, provided $5 million in initial seed funding to tackle the situation at Vinca. The Vinca Institute Nuclear Decommissioning (VIND) project is part of the Russian Research Reactor Fuel Return Programme, a project borne out of the Global Threat Reduction Initiative.

For over a decade, the IAEA has been engaged in the Vinca facility's decommissioning. The condition of the reactor´s spent fuel raised safety concerns in the mid-1990s, sparked by the Agency's fact-finding missions. Since then, the IAEA's technical cooperation with Serbia has intensified in the areas of safety, and more recently, security. IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei visited the facility in early July 2009, to assess progress at Vinca.

Last update: 11 November 2014