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Serbia Emptied of Highly Enriched Uranium

All highly enriched uranium has been removed from Serbia following a final 28-pound shipment of the potential nuclear-weapon material, the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration announced yesterday (see GSN, April 8).

The last transport of the Russian-origin spent fuel from the Vinca Institute of Nuclear Sciences ended an eight-year program to clear all highly enriched uranium from the European state. The material was placed in special containers and then moved by vehicle, train and cargo ship to Russia.

“With the removal of all remaining highly enriched uranium from Serbia, we are one step closer to achieving the president’s goal of securing vulnerable nuclear material around the world,” NNSA chief Thomas D’Agostino said in a press release. “The elimination of this material reduces the risk that it could be stolen by terrorists and highlights Serbia’s commitment to global nuclear nonproliferation efforts" (see GSN, Dec. 16).

A total of six nations have rid themselves of their full HEU stocks since April of last year, according to the release. The U.S. nuclear agency to date has helped safeguard nearly 6,700 pounds of highly enriched uranium and plutonium, which could power in excess of 120 nuclear weapons.

The Vinca reactor effort involved collaboration and "cost sharing" by the National Nuclear Security Administration, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the European Union, the governments of Serbia, Russia and the Czech Republic, and the nongovernmental Nuclear Threat Initiative.

The shipment also encompassed roughly 2.5 metric tons of low-enriched uranium.

In addition, the United States over the years has helped to augment security at the Vinca facility (U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration release, Dec. 22).

The last shipment began moving last month and reached its destination yesterday, the Associated Press reported (George Jahn, Associated Press/Washington Post, Dec. 22). The project moved 8,030 spent fuel elements nearly 5,000 miles under armed guard through Serbia, Hungary and Slovenia and into Russia, according to an IAEA release. It cost $55 million and was largely funded by Serbia and "international donors," the U.N. nuclear watchdog said.

"This was a very complicated project. We had to involve governments, contractors, and non-governmental organizations," said IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said in the release. "It was a great success. It was a success story and we are very happy to continue to cooperate with stakeholders to repatriate highly enriched uranium."

Russia is expected to extract uranium from the spent material for use as nuclear power plant fuel and to store the remaining waste in a "deep geological repository," the IAEA release states (International Atomic Energy Agency release, Dec. 22).

Terrorist acquisition of the spent fuel could have produced "dire consequences," a nuclear security specialist from a Western nation told Reuters.

"The material poses more of a 'dirty bomb' threat than a nuclear weapon risk," he said, discussing a weapon that would use conventional explosives to spread radioactive material (Fredrik Dahl, Reuters, Dec. 22).

[Editor's Note: The Nuclear Threat Initiative is the sole sponsor of Global Security Newswire, which is published independently by the National Journal Group.]

Note to our Readers

GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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