In a mission completed 22 December 2004, the IAEA helped Czech authorities remove weapons-usable highly enriched uranium (HEU) from a research reactor in Rez near the capital of Prague.
The six kilograms of HEU were safely returned to the Russian Federation, which originally supplied it. The mission was a joint effort between the United States, the Czech Republic, Russia, and the IAEA, and carried out in the framework of a joint programme called the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI). The aim of the GTRI is to identify, secure, recover and/or facilitate the final disposition of high-risk vulnerable nuclear and radiological materials around the world.
The nuclear fuel was originally supplied to the Czech Republic by the Soviet Union for use in the Soviet-designed 10 megawatt LVR-15 multi-purpose research reactor, located in Rez near the Czech capital, Prague. In 2000, the US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and the Czech Nuclear Research Institute completed a joint project to upgrade security of the nuclear material at Rez until it could be returned to Russia. Earlier this year, US Secretary of the Department of Energy Spencer Abraham and Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency Director Alexander Rumyantsev signed a bilateral agreement between their respective governments to facilitate the repatriation of Russian-origin HEU research reactor fuel to Russia.
During the one-day mission, the DOE reported that approximately six kilograms of HEU were loaded into four specialized transportation containers. IAEA safeguards inspectors and NNSA technical experts of were present in Rez to monitor the process of loading the fuel into canisters. The facility in Russia that received the material has worked closely with the NNSA to implement security upgrades.
Over the past two years the IAEA has supported similar operations in other countries, including Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, Bulgaria, Libya, and Uzbekistan, to transfer fresh 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 LEU fuel. In conjunction with the US-initiated programme, the Agency is helping to reduce and eventually eliminate international commerce in HEU for research reactors. As part of its efforts, the IAEA assists Member States to upgrade physical security and improve overall safety at research reactors. A particular focus is on ageing or shut down reactors and their spent fuel storage facilities.