WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) today announced the removal of the final highly enriched uranium (HEU) from Chile, making it the fifth country to remove all of its HEU since President Obama called for an international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years. The operation in Chile was successfully completed despite a massive earthquake on Feb. 27 and numerous aftershocks that occurred while the NNSA team was in the country.
The announcement comes just days ahead of the President’s Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, DC, during which leaders from more than 45 countries will gather to discuss the international effort to secure vulnerable nuclear materials around the world.
“The removal of all HEU from Chile is a major accomplishment for NNSA, the Government of Chile and the international community,” said NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino. “The fact that the Chilean government devoted so many resources to completing this mission, even during a national emergency, is a demonstration of their commitment to this vital nuclear security agenda. As we prepare for next week’s historic Nuclear Security Summit here in Washington, D.C., this partnership serves as an example of the ways we can work together in the international community to secure nuclear material around the world.”
During shipment preparations, an 8.8 magnitude earthquake occurred off the Chilean coast causing widespread damage to surrounding areas. The Chilean Commission of Nuclear Energy (CCHEN) and NNSA officials immediately began working on contingency plans to ensure that the shipment would not be significantly delayed. Due to the flexibility and cooperative spirit of the joint U.S.-Chile team, the shipment occurred with minimal delay, and the material is now securely stored at U.S. facilities.
During the February operation, despite this unprecedented national emergency, NNSA’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative and CCHEN removed 13.6 kilograms of HEU spent fuel from the La Reina Nuclear Center in downtown Santiago, Chile, along with 4.3 kilograms of slightly irradiated HEU and 0.3 kilograms of fresh fuel from the Lo Aguirre Nuclear Center located 40 km west of Santiago, and more than 400 U.S.-origin radiological sources.
NNSA’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative and CCHEN have a long track record of working together on nuclear nonproliferation issues. This includes the return of all U.S.-origin HEU spent nuclear fuel to the United States in 2001 and the conversion of the RECH-1 research reactor in Santiago from HEU to low enriched uranium (LEU) fuel in 2006.
The operation was also the first shipment of HEU spent fuel to the United States under a Record of Decision signed by NNSA Administrator D’Agostino in January 2009 that allows the United States to accept limited amounts of non-U.S.-origin HEU spent nuclear fuel to provide additional flexibility to address nuclear material around the world. This shipment from Chile, which included non-U.S.-origin HEU from the RECH-1 and RECH-2 research reactors, was the first to be conducted under the new decision.
The material was packaged into internationally licensed transportation casks, secured in shipping containers and transported in an armed convoy from the reactor sites to a nearby port for transport by sea to the United States. The shipment was recently completed after the vessels arrived at a secure U.S. port in late March.
In a speech in Prague last April, President Obama called for an international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years. This shipment makes Chile the fifth country to be cleaned out of all HEU since that speech.
The shipment is part of NNSA’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI). With the completion of this shipment, GTRI has removed all significant amounts of HEU from 18 countries. This results in permanent threat reduction because it eliminates weapons usable nuclear material at civilian sites.
With the successful completion of this shipment, GTRI has now removed or assisted with the disposition of more than 2,600 kilograms of HEU and plutonium – enough material to make more than 100 nuclear weapons.
Photos and video from this operation are available on NNSA’s Flickr and YouTube pages. High-resolution files are available to the media upon request.
A fact sheet on NNSA’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative is available online here.
A fact sheet on NNSA’s efforts to prevent nuclear terrorism is available here.
Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; works to reduce global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the United States and abroad.
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