On 9 September 2004, the IAEA helped Uzbekistan authorities remove weapons-usable highly enriched uranium (HEU) stored at the Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Academy of Sciences of Uzbekistan, near the country’s capital, Tashkent.
About 10kg of fresh reactor fuel - of which only 1.75 kg was fissile uranium-235 - was transported by truck and air from the Institute to the Russian Federation. IAEA inspectors monitored and verified the packing of the fuel for transport. HEU is used to fuel nuclear reactors for research. It is also a key ingredient to make a nuclear weapon.
Russia was the original supplier of the fuel which powered Uzbekistan’s 10-megawatt VVR-SM reactor, often described as the largest facility of its kind in Central Asia. The Russian Federation will convert the fuel to low-enriched uranium (LEU) making it unsuitable for use in a nuclear weapon.
The shipment was arranged by the IAEA, as part of its technical cooperation activities, under a US-Russia-IAEA programme called the Tripartite Initiative, to address safety and proliferation risks. The Tripartite Initiative returns fresh and spent fuel from Russian designed reactors abroad. The US funded the Uzbekistan fuel-removal, and has recently expanded its assistance to countries willing to convert their research reactors to LEU and return their fresh or spent HEU fuel back to its country of origin. (For details, see the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) link under story resources).
In the past two years the IAEA has assisted Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, Bulgaria, and Libya to transfer fresh HEU reactor fuel back to its country of origin.
About 130 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.