The last high-enriched uranium (HEU) has been removed from Romania under a US-led security initiative. The nuclear fuel has been used and stored at research reactors since its original delivery from the Soviet Union during the Cold War era.
It has now been returned to Russia and was the first such transport to travel by air. Its removal, which follows that of US-origin HEU means that no such nuclear fuel exists in Romania any more. The US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) said that one shipment of 23.7 kg of HEU from the Magurele research reactor was packed into specialized TUK-19 transport casks and loaded aboard an Antonov-124 cargo aircraft for the journey to Chelyabinsk in Russia. That movement followed another of 30 kg of HEU from Pitesti to Dimitrovgrad, Russia which also travelled by air.
With the successful completion of these shipments, a total of approximately 862 kg of Russian-origin HEU fuel have been returned from Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Libya, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Poland, Germany, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Vietnam.
This comes in addition to 225 kg of fresh and used American-origin HEU from Australia, Germany, Austria, Greece, Japan, Argentina, Sweden, Portugal, Romania and the Netherlands.
The definition of HEU is that it has a concentration of 20 percent or more of the fissile isotope uranium-235. It is a security concern because HEU with enrichment levels of around 90 percent could be used in a nuclear weapon. By contrast, low-enriched uranium (LEU) reactor fuel for power generation is only 5.0 percent U-235, and some types of reactors can operate at natural enrichment levels of about 0.7 percent.
The program of removals is a major component of the NNSA’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), which seeks to reduce the potential for nuclear fuel to fall into the hands of terrorists or rogue states. Another initiative is the conversion of research reactors to use LEU instead of HEU. Since the GTRI began in 2000, some 18 research reactors have been converted.