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Russia, U.S. Discuss Atomic Protection Initiatives

Security officials in Poland load canisters of highly enriched uranium onto an aircraft for repatriation to Russia in 2006. To date, more than 4,400 pounds of bomb-usable uranium have been removed from scientific reactors in six one-time Soviet republics and allies, a senior Russian nuclear official said on Tuesday (AP Photo/International Atomic Energy Agency). Security officials in Poland load canisters of highly enriched uranium onto an aircraft for repatriation to Russia in 2006. To date, more than 4,400 pounds of bomb-usable uranium have been removed from scientific reactors in six one-time Soviet republics and allies, a senior Russian nuclear official said on Tuesday (AP Photo/International Atomic Energy Agency).

Russia and the United States on Tuesday indicated they would continue to take steps to guard against the illicit acquisition of atomic substances, the Associated Press reported (see GSN, June 26).

The governments have established a "strong partnership" on protecting assets in the atomic power sector, U.S. Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman said following a technical discussion in Moscow on the matter. A U.S.-Russian initiative authorized through a 7-year-old pact has focused on repatriating atomic reactor material from state recipients of Soviet atomic systems during the Cold War.

"We are talking about the situation in which a matter of kilograms of this material is highly dangerous and could be used for terrorist purposes, and which we have repatriated many multiples of that quantity," Poneman said following the intergovernmental exchange.

Authorities have so far pulled in excess of 4,400 pounds of bomb-usable uranium out of scientific reactors in six one-time Soviet territories and allies, said Sergei Kiriyenko, who heads the Russian atomic energy firm Rosatom (see GSN, June 26).

"We are talking about hundreds of potential 'dirty bombs' that could have fallen into the hands of terrorists," he stated. "Russia and the U.S. have taken responsibility for security in all the countries which we have supplied with highly enriched uranium."

A document inked by Poneman and Kiriyenko on Tuesday affirms Moscow's ambition to start modifying its scientific reactors to run on low-enriched uranium in place of material suited for use in nuclear armaments.

A U.S.-Russian deal on atomic power science initiatives is slated to be finalized in September, according to Poneman and Kiriyenko. Activities anticipated to be covered by the agreement would include collaborative projects on engineering potential atomic systems and operating substances.

"We continue to believe that the proposed activities will give additional momentum to establishing long-term and large-scale cooperation between Russia and the United States in civil nuclear energy and in nuclear security," the U.S. deputy energy secretary stated (Vladimir Isachenkov, Associated Press/Seattle Times, June 26).

Russia's Argus, MEPhl, OR and IR-8 reactors could realistically undergo modification to run on uranium unsuitable for use in weapons, according to evaluations announced on Tuesday by the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration. Assessments slated to be finished within the next few months would examine the potential for carrying out similar updates to two other systems; execution of the analyses is taking place under the auspices of the Russian-American Working Group created by an "implementing agreement" between the Energy Department and Rosatom.

“The conversion of Russian research reactors from highly enriched uranium to lightly enriched uranium directly supports the president's goal to reduce the dangers of nuclear material terrorism and weapons proliferation," Poneman said in an NNSA press release. “We look forward to continuing cooperation with the Russian Federation on this important project as part of fulfilling commitments made at the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea” (see GSN, May 1).

At least one and possibly two scientific atomic reactors are set to undergo modification in 2014.

Operations have ended at nine of 27 Russian scientific nuclear reactors reliant on highly enriched uranium, according to the release. All but seven of 27 such units in the United States have ceased activities or undergone updates enabling use of low-enriched fuel.

Modification of the remaining seven U.S. systems would move forward at the maximum speed the country can achieve, according to the NNSA statement (U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration release, June 26).

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