Research reactors are used to produce radioisotopes for medicine and industry, for research in physics, biology and material science, and for scientific education and training.
More than half of all the 245 operational research reactors worldwide are still fuelled with high-enriched uranium (HEU). This is considered a high-risk material since it can also be used in the making of a nuclear explosive device. In conjunction with the US Global Threat Reduction Initiative programme, the IAEA works with its Member States both to return the fresh or spent fuel to the countries of origin and to convert their research reactors to low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel, which does not pose a proliferation risk. The final goal is to reduce and eventually eliminate HEU from international commerce.
The IAEA has so far facilitated similar shipments from Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Libya, Uzbekistan, Czech Republic, Latvia, Poland and Vietnam. This is being done through an IAEA Technical Cooperation project that runs with extra-budgetary funding from the US Department of Energy´s National Nuclear Security Administration.
The latest shipment from the Czech Republic was the fifth spent HEU fuel shipment and altogether the eighteenth takeback mission of both spent and fresh HEU fuel. It brought the total amount of repatriated spent fuel to 590 kg.
The new SKODA VPVR/M casks are the latest high capacity containers used in this ongoing project. Due to their large size, they facilitate fuel repatriation operations. As a comparison, 63 kg of spent HEU were returned from Uzbekistan in 2006 in four separate shipments with containers available then, whereas 80 kg of spent HEU together with 260 kg of spent LEU in the new SKODA casks could be carried at one time during the latest shipment from the Czech Republic.