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Welcome Address to 30th International Meeting on Reduced Enrichment for Research and Test Reactors

Washington, D.C., USA

Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am Yury Sokolov, Deputy Director General for Nuclear Energy at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). I am pleased to open this 30th International Meeting on Reduced Enrichment for Research and Test Reactors (RERTR). It is an honour for me to be here, directly after the IAEA General Conference, at which many national statements reflected the importance of reduced fuel enrichment for research reactors and the role of the IAEA in the global effort to minimize use of HEU in research reactors. As Director General Dr. ElBaradei has stated on many occasions, he and the IAEA continue to strongly support the goals of RERTR programme.

Let me welcome all of you to this special 30th annual meeting, organized by the U.S. Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration´s Office of Global Threat Reduction in cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). I would like to congratulate the GTRI staff at the U.S. Department of Energy and Argonne National Laboratory for their excellent preparations.

A well-organized meeting is but one prerequisite for a successful event. The most important element is of course, you, the contributors and participants. I would like to thank all the attendees for coming to Washington, and, further, for your work and preparation for this meeting. It is not only the presentations and papers that you have prepared and submitted for this meeting, but the dedication and many hours of work and effort during the past year to a wide variety of RERTR-related projects and activities.

We look forward to a highly successful meeting, with approximately 300 participants from around 30 countries. As usual, the programme promises to be quite interesting, with diverse presentations encompassing policy, technical, and programmatic matters.

As you are well aware, the IAEA has been a vigorous supporter of the RERTR programme since its inception. This support continues in a strengthened form, as the IAEA is a primary partner in the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) and carries out many projects and activities both under its Regular Budget and from the Technical Cooperation Program in cooperation with and supported by GTRI. Our partnership is strong and expanding. I would like to thank US DOE/GTRI for DOE´s continued financial support and in-kind assistance to the IAEA´s activities.

The IAEA contribution to RERTR conferences, including this year´s, continues to be substantial. There are numerous IAEA presentations, as well several staff members present here. Again this year the IAEA has provided financial support for the attendance of 10 participants from developing countries. This ensures that many IAEA member states are well-informed regarding RERTR related activities and have the opportunity for professional networking. The ever increasing contribution of experts from developing countries is another indication of the success of RERTR.

This 30th anniversary meeting on Reduced Enrichment for Research and Test Reactors gives me an opportunity to briefly share with you my views on what RERTR has accomplished since 1978 and what remains to be done in the global effort to minimize and eventually eliminate the use of HEU.

The IAEA has been involved with and has fully supported RERTR since its inception 30 years ago. This has included the development of international guidelines and standards to assist the overall reduced enrichment effort. Beginning in 1979, the IAEA produced a series of IAEA Technical Documents (TECDOCS) directly relevant to RERTR, as guides for the conversion of research reactors. These include the five volumes of the Research Reactor Core Conversion Guidebook.

After 1993, the IAEA extended the scope of its spent fuel management programme to include spent fuel from research and test reactors. The IAEA's activities in this area proved, I believe, to be valuable to the RERTR programme.

In July 1993 IAEA Director General Dr. Hans Blix sent letters to U.S. Energy Secretary O'Leary and in February 1995 to Mr. Victor Michailov, Minister of Atomic Energy of the Russian Federation, suggesting that their countries could facilitate the non-proliferation goal of RERTR by taking back foreign research reactor fuel.

In 2000 IAEA Director General Dr, Mohamed ElBaradei sent a letter to sixteen countries with inventories of Russian research reactor fuel and received thirteen positive responses. This launched the successful programme of shipping back Russian research reactor fuel.

Work towards minimization of HEU in civilian uses expanded and accelerated in 2004 after the launching of the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) and when Russia joined the United States in facilitating the efforts of other States for the conversion of their research reactors from the use of HEU to LEU by taking back fresh and spent nuclear fuel of Russian origin.

IAEA activities were strengthened and expanded at the end of 2004 to implement new programmatic tasks supportive of GTRI. A comprehensive set of new activities related to GTRI were included in the IAEA programme and budget for 2006-2007 and 2008-2009.

Let me outline the IAEA´s activity related to GTRI during the period 2005 -2008.

The Agency involvement in specific reactor conversions varies from direct management of LEU fuel procurement contracts to pre- and post conversion assistance including safety and other technical support. During this period the IAEA played a key role in the successful conversion of research reactors in Chile, Libya, Romania, Portugal and Vietnam; and is actively participating in reactor conversion projects in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Poland.

Fuel take back efforts organized by the IAEA resulted in the return to Russia of about 450 kg of fresh HEU from research reactors in Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Germany, Latvia, Libya, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam and about 7 kg of spent HEU fuel from Portugal to the U.S..

I can also cite progress in preparing to re-package 1.5 metric tonnes of spent research reactor fuel from the Vinca Institute in Serbia and to ship it to Russia in 2010; and the success in procurement of ten dual purpose spent fuel casks to directly assist the Russian Research Reactor Fuel Return Programme (RRRFR) under a 4 million euro contract.

Further examples of IAEA work include the preparation of documents such as Good Practices for Qualification of High Density Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) Research Reactor Fuels, which will be issued in 2009 and will update the information to support licensing of newly developed fuels for conversion of research reactors from the use of HEU fuels to the use of LEU fuels and for use in new reactors. Two publications are also being prepared on experience gained in shipping fuel under the U.S. and Russian spent fuel return programmes.

Another area of significant IAEA activity is the organization of Coordinated Research Projects (CRPs) on different areas relevant to the conversion from HEU to LEU. Here I can mention the CRP on Miniature Neutron Source Reactors (MNSR) where China, Ghana, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria and the U.S. are collaborating to carry out studies and develop documentation necessary for the conversion of HEU-fuelled MNSR reactors to LEU. The Agency activity on the Use of LEU in Accelerator Driven Subcritical Systems is an international collaborative effort in which 29 experts from 15 Member States are cooperating in studying the feasibility of using LEU in ADS systems. The CRP on Developing Techniques for Small Scale Indigenous Molybdenum 99 Production Using LEU Fission or Neutron Activation advances international non-proliferation objectives while also promoting sustainable development needs.

The need for appropriate planning of activities for future conversion efforts and assessment of the efficiency of the programme led to the preparation of and support for a database, that the Agency developed and maintains, of facilities utilizing HEU, including critical facilities and pulse reactors.

The Agency also supports the organization of Technical Workshops and International Symposiums, like one in Norway on Minimization of HEU in the Civilian Nuclear Sector, which attracted a broad technical audience and concluded that LEU can be substituted for HEU in virtually all applications. It also noted that the major obstacles to further minimization and eventual elimination of HEU are political and economic, not technical.

The RERTR meetings, of course, have a special role among our activities. They are important not only for what is presented in the formal technical sessions, but also for what takes place in the informal gatherings, side meetings, and personal encounters. The IAEA also has participated as an observer in the International Fuel Development Working Group, a highly important effort that is overseeing the multinational cooperative research and development effort for very high density LEU fuel.

Remarkable achievements of GTRI are the conversion to LEU or final shutdown prior to conversion of 62 research reactors, the return to the United States of more than 1100 kg of spent HEU fuel and more than 1800 kg of spent LEU fuel and the return to Russia of more than 600 kg of spent and fresh HEU fuel.

But while much has been achieved so far, vulnerabilities remain. HEU continues to be used for military purposes in a number of States; about 150 civilian and military research reactors are still using HEU and important quantities of fresh; and spent HEU fuel continues to be stored in different countries.

All this calls for continued efforts, with a sense of urgency and more coherent global action. Some of the measures that might be taken are as follows:

    1. The countries involved should join forces to step up their efforts towards minimizing and eventually eliminating the civilian and in due course the military use of HEU. Financing and other incentives should be made available where needed to assist countries with conversion operations.


    1. All countries should agree to stop producing fissile material for use in nuclear weapons. The elements are already in place for such an agreement, in the form of the proposed Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty. It is high time to negotiate and conclude such a treaty.


  1. To build confidence, countries with civilian and military HEU stockpiles should declare the size of those stockpiles and publish a schedule under which the remaining HEU will be verifiably down blended.

By investing in these measures, we could alleviate proliferation concerns associated with the continued uses of HEU and help reduce the risk of nuclear terrorism. I believe that this is an initiative in which all countries - Nuclear Weapon States and Non-Nuclear Weapon States alike - could play a role, and from which all would clearly benefit. The Agency stands ready to continue to take its share of this work through supporting and assisting its Member States in their efforts.

In closing, I would like to once again thank the U.S. Department of Energy, National Nuclear Security Administration, and the RERTR Programme at Argonne National Laboratory for their leadership role and assistance, both in organizing this meeting and in working with the IAEA to accomplish the important objectives of the RERTR program. I would like to thank them once again for their confidence in the IAEA. I would also again like to thank all those who have worked so hard in preparing this meeting, which I am certain will be a great success. I look forward to a week of exciting interchange of ideas and experience.

Last update: 16 Feb 2018

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