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NNSA and Kazakhstan Complete Operation to Eliminate Highly Enriched Uranium

October 12, 2011

Astana, KAZAKHSTAN – In an address today at the
International Forum for a Nuclear Weapons-Free World in Astana, Kazakhstan, Deputy
Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman announced the removal and permanent disposition
of 33 kilograms (approximately 72 pounds) of highly enriched uranium (HEU)
fresh fuel from the Institute of Nuclear Physics in Almaty.  The HEU was
sent to the Ulba Metallurgical Plant in Ust-Kamenogorsk, Kazakhstan, where it was
downblended into low-enriched uranium (LEU) and can no longer be used to make a
nuclear weapon.   

Completed in secrecy over a seven week span, the operation was a
combined effort between the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA),
the government of the Republic of Kazakhstan, and the International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA).  It follows two decades
of cooperation and reflects the shared commitment by the United States and
Kazakhstan to secure dangerous nuclear and radiological material from
terrorists. 

“This latest
milestone builds on a history of successful efforts between our two nations to
secure nuclear material, to combat illicit trafficking in nuclear and
radiological material, to strengthen the international nuclear nonproliferation
regime, and to pursue a world without nuclear weapons,” said Deputy Secretary
Poneman.

“The removal and downblending of highly enriched uranium in Kazakhstan
demonstrates the success of working collaboratively with the international
community to reduce the threat of nuclear terrorism, bringing us closer to
achieving President Obama’s goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear material
around the world,” said NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino. “Kazakhstan’s
leadership on this project will prevent dangerous nuclear material from falling
into the wrong hands. Our shared commitment to nuclear security has made the world
safer.” 

In a speech in Prague in
April 2009, President Obama called for an international effort to secure all
vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years. These
operations reduce global threats by securing, removing or eliminating
weapons-usable nuclear material.

Kazakhstan is an important
partner in nuclear security. It gave up the substantial number of warheads on
its territory when the Soviet Union collapsed and has consistently played a
nuclear security leadership role in the region. This is crucial given
Kazakhstan’s prominent role as a supplier of uranium and its large commercial
nuclear infrastructure.  This week’s International
Forum for a Nuclear Weapons-Free World, which brought together international
leaders committed to eliminating the global threat of nuclear weapons, marks the
20th anniversary of the closing of the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test
Site and recognizes the leadership Kazakhstan has shown pursuing global nuclear
security, safety and cooperation. 

Under the auspices of NNSA’s Global Threat Reduction
Initiative (GTRI), the HEU was shipped in August to the Ulba Metallurgical
Plant, which has the capability to convert HEU into LEU through a process that
involves dissolving the HEU.  Either
depleted or natural uranium is then added in, reducing the enrichment of the
resulting uranium.  After seven weeks
time, the HEU was completely eliminated. 
The LEU will now be returned to the Institute of Nuclear Physics for
future scientific work that will support the safe, secure and peaceful use of
nuclear energy.

GTRI and Kazakhstan share a long history of cooperation
on nuclear nonproliferation issues.  In May 2009, Kazakhstan completed the
return of over 70 kilograms (150 pounds) of used HEU fuel to Russia. Last
November, GTRI and Kazakhstan worked with international partners to secure 10
tons of HEU and 3 tons of weapons-grade plutonium contained in used nuclear
fuel from the BN-350 Reactor in Aktau, Kazakhstan. GTRI and Kazakhstan are
currently working together to convert the research reactor at the Institute of
Nuclear Physics from the use of HEU to LEU fuel. 

Additional cooperation between NNSA and Kazakhstan has
improved security for nuclear and radiological materials through efforts such
as the development of a workshop to share ideas and tools for nuclear security,
equipping Kazakhstan ports of entry with radiation detection equipment,
bilateral cooperation on safeguards implementation, training of Kazakhstani
officials on export controls, and working to apply the expertise of former
nuclear weapon scientists to civil pursuits that advance global nonproliferation
and security efforts. 

A fact sheet with additional information on
U.S.-Kazakhstani nuclear security cooperation is available here.

A fact sheet on NNSA’s Global Threat
Reduction Initiative is available online 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.

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