Skip to main content

You are here

Deputy Administrator Anne Harrington on Completion of BN-350 Fuel Shipments

November 18, 2010

Thank you for inviting us to be here today to share this momentous occasion.  Today, we are celebrating the completion of a major nuclear nonproliferation success story, and a true milestone in international peace and security.  As partners, we have completed a long and complicated campaign to safely shut down the BN-350 reactor, secure the spent fuel it produced, and then package and transport the spent fuel more than 3,000 kilometers for secure storage in Eastern Kazakhstan. Each and every one of us who has helped in this uniquely challenging and important effort should feel proud of having made the world a safer place.

Before I begin, I would like to recognize some of the key people here today who have helped make this possible.  First, I would like to thank our colleagues from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs including Deputy Foreign Minister Umarov, First Deputy Minister of Industry and New Technologies Rau, and the Kazakhstan Atomic Energy Committee Chairman Zhantikin.  I would also like to thank Vladimir Shkolnik, currently President of Kazatomprom, who negotiated the agreement that has served as the framework for this activity and has championed it in his multiple roles.  In addition, I would like to thank Ambassador Hoagland for the Embassy’s constant support, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and our partners from the United Kingdom – including Ambassador Moran and Fiona Harrison.

Most of all, I would like to recognize the dedicated team of experts from Kazakhstan State Corporation for Atomic Power and Industry, Mangyshlak Atomic Energy Combine, the Ministry of Internal Affairs Special Troops, and the National Nuclear Center who worked tirelessly at both ends of the country to ensure that the tough goals that we set for them were achieved.

As President Obama said last April in Prague, the danger of a terrorist acquiring nuclear weapons is "the most immediate and extreme threat to global security.”  To prevent that nightmare scenario from ever becoming reality, he committed the United States to work with our partners around the world to secure vulnerable nuclear material within four years.  The leaders from forty-seven countries and three international organizations reaffirmed these goals at the Nuclear Security Summit this past April in Washington.

President Nazarbayev and the Republic of Kazakhstan have been strong partners in that effort. As our two Presidents emphasized at the Nuclear Security Summit, nuclear proliferation and smuggling are global challenges needing concerted effort from all states.

The BN-350 program, and the fact that Kazakhstan and the United States have been committed to it for more than a decade, fully underscores how seriously both countries take our responsibilities to address the challenges of nuclear nonproliferation and global security.

Working closely together, we secured, packaged and removed the spent fuel that contains 10 metric tons of highly enriched uranium and three metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium – enough material for 775 nuclear weapons. 

This is an important milestone and a testament to a decade of preparation, planning, and effective execution.  Back in 1997, the United States and Kazakhstan signed an agreement that established a joint program for the long-term, secure storage of the fuel from the BN-350.

Working together with the IAEA, Russia, and our other partners, we designed and fabricated 61 “dual-use” casks that were used to transport and store the fuel in a safe and secure manner. 

We designed special rail cars to transport the casks and constructed additional rail lines. 

We built three separate facilities – the Aktau Temporary Cask Storage Site, the Kurchatov Rail Transfer Site, and the Cask Storage Facility. 

We provided countless hours of training for all personnel involved in the loading and transportation, renovated the guard barracks to accommodate more troops, and completed a full-scale dry run. 

We completed 12 shipments that transported the specially-designed casks - each weighing 100 metric tons when fully loaded – more than 3,000 kilometers across the country.

Each of these steps itself could be considered a major accomplishment. 

This project also challenged us with unique scientific and technical challenges associated with shutting down the BN-350 reactor.  Preparing a decommissioning plan, decontaminating the primary sodium coolant, and forming the process and design for the final waste from the sodium processing operations were all major scientific challenges that required teamwork and cutting edge ideas to complete.  Most importantly, many of the most difficult technical issues were solved through cooperative research and technology development between scientists in the U.S. national laboratories and their Kazakhstani counterparts.

But achieving the unachievable has been a hallmark of this campaign from the start.

Throughout the process, we have maintained high standards of safety and security.  In particular, the level of physical protection provided by the Government of Kazakhstan for these shipments demonstrated its commitment to keeping this material safe during every step.

Of course, none of this could have been possible without the incredible skills, talents and sacrifices made by many who worked long hours away from their families, often in extreme weather.  The loading of the first casks and the first shipments were completed in temperatures reaching minus30 degrees Centigrade. When the weather thawed out in the spring, the team had to overcome extreme flooding conditions in Kurchatov that could have disrupted the rail and road transport. But you all persevered, and got the job done no matter what challenges you faced.

In addition, the BN-350 program fostered several International Science and Technology Center projects within Kazakhstan relating to the shutdown of the BN-350 reactor.  To name a few, these projects included the preparation of a decommissioning plan, decontamination of the primary sodium coolant, and formulation of the process and design for the final waste form from the sodium processing operations.

The completion of these shipments should make you all very proud and speaks to the dedication and hard work of everyone involved. 

It also speaks to the broader history of our cooperation on nuclear security, and to the incredible accomplishments that have yet come.   Together, we are:

•    Working as partners with 45 other countries and three international organizations to demonstrate successes at the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul.

•    Ensuring robust protection, control and accounting of nuclear material;

•    Converting research reactors to run on low enriched uranium fuel, which cannot be used in a nuclear weapon, instead of HEU fuel;

•    Eliminating the remaining stocks of high enriched uranium in Kazakhstan;

•    Providing physical protection for radioactive sources which could be used in a “dirty bomb” and transporting sources that are no longer in use to secure storage;

•    Working at border crossings to prevent nuclear smuggling;

•    Cooperating on research and development of new IAEA safeguards implementation techniques; and

•    Working together and with international partners to develop a new international framework for civil nuclear cooperation that will give access to clean, nuclear power to many developing countries.

So today, I thank each and every one of you for your dedication, for your professionalism, for your commitment to the security of our citizens, and – most importantly – for the incredible work we continue to do together.
Once again, congratulations to all of you, and thank you for your hard work in making the world safer.