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NNSA, Portugal and IAEA Convert Nuclear Research Reactor

September 24, 2007

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) worked together with the Instituto Tecnologico e Nuclear in Sacavem, Portugal and with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to convert successfully the 1 Megawatt Portuguese research reactor from the use of highly enriched uranium to low enriched uranium. Unlike highly enriched fuel, the low enriched uranium cannot be used readily in a nuclear weapon and is less desirable to terrorists or criminals.

"The successful conversion of this research reactor demonstrates that Portugal is a significant partner in the global nuclear nonproliferation effort," said William Tobey, NNSA's deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation. "This reactor conversion contributes to reducing the use of highly enriched uranium for civilian purposes and will help significantly as we continue to work with others to convert even more research reactors."

As a part of its nuclear nonproliferation mission, NNSA converts highly enriched uranium fueled nuclear research reactors in the United States and around the world into operating on low enriched uranium fuel. Currently, NNSA is working to convert 77 additional reactors by 2018. This is part of the Bush administration's efforts to minimize the use of highly enriched uranium in civil applications.

NNSA provided the funding for the conversion through its Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), and collaborated closely with the Portuguese reactor staff and the IAEA to accomplish the joint program. GTRI works around the world to reduce and protect vulnerable nuclear and radiological materials located at civilian sites.

The conversion of the Portuguese reactor is part of an accelerated schedule of U.S. and Russian-supplied reactor conversations outlined in the 2005 Bratislava joint nuclear security statement between Presidents Bush and Putin. NNSA's other international research reactor conversions under the Bratislava schedule were the VR-1 Sparrow at the Czech Technical University in Prague in October 2005, the critical assembly at the Tajoura Nuclear Research Center in Libya in January 2006, the IRT-1 10 megawatt research reactor at the Tajoura Nuclear Research Center in Libya in October 2006, and the Dalat research reactor at the Nuclear Research Institute in Vietnam in September 2007.

The Portuguese conversion also supports the goals of the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, which was launched by Presidents Bush and Putin in 2006, to expand and accelerate the development of partnership capacity to counter the global threat of nuclear terrorism. Portugal is a key partner of the initiative and this conversion represents their strong commitment to the initiative's goals.

Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a separately organized 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.

Media contact(s):
NNSA Public Affairs (202) 586-7371