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NNSA Secures 775 Nuclear Weapons Worth of Weapons-Grade Nuclear Material from BN-350 Fast Reactor in Kazakhstan

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) joined its international partners in celebrating completion of a large-scale campaign to provide secure long-term storage for more than 10 metric tons of highly enriched uranium and three metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium in Kazakhstan – enough material to make 775 nuclear weapons. 

NNSA Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Anne Harrington joined Kazakhstan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Kairat Umarov, the United Kingdom’s Ambassador David Moran and U.S. Ambassador Richard Hoagland in announcing the accomplishment at a secure storage facility in Eastern Kazakhstan. The ceremony also featured senior-level officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Kingdom, both of which played important roles in the successful completion of the shipments. 

Over the course of 12 shipments during the last year, the nuclear material was transported from the BN-350 reactor in Aktau to a new secure storage facility in Eastern Kazakhstan.  The material was packaged into 60 specially-designed casks -- each weighing 100 metric tons -- which were transported by train and road over 3,000 kilometers (more than 1,800 miles).

“Moving the BN-350 fuel to a new facility for secure long-term storage is a critical nuclear nonproliferation milestone and an important contribution to global security,” said NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino.  “Through our close partnership with Kazakhstan, we were able to finish the challenging series of shipments ahead of schedule. Our partners in Kazakhstan once again demonstrated their commitment to international nonproliferation efforts, and together we have taken a major step forward in meeting President Obama’s goal of securing all nuclear material within four years.”

The shipments were conducted by NNSA’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative in close cooperation with Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Industry and New Technology and other government agencies. 

Located on the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea, the BN-350 fast reactor was designed to both generate electric power and to breed plutonium for the former Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons program. 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 reactor, which stopped weapons material production in the 1980s, and was completely shut down in 1999.

The United States and Kazakhstan share a long history of cooperation on nuclear nonproliferation issues.  This cooperation has included the return of Russian-origin highly-enriched uranium (HEU) from the Institute of Nuclear Physics and technical cooperation to convert the research reactor there, improvement of security for nuclear and radiological materials, development of a workshop to share ideas and tools for improving the nuclear security culture, equipping Kazakhstan ports of entry with radiation detection equipment, bilateral cooperation on safeguards implementation, training for Kazakhstani officials on export controls, and working to apply the expertise of former nuclear weapons scientists to civil pursuits that advance global nonproliferation and security efforts.

In his Prague speech in April 2009, President Obama said the danger of a terrorist acquiring nuclear weapons "the most immediate and extreme threat to global security” and called for an international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years. The transfer of BN-350 fuel to the secure long-term storage facility is an important component of this effort and demonstrates the strong partnership of the United States and Kazakhstan on this issue.

To complete the shipments, NNSA worked with its counterparts in Kazakhstan, the IAEA, Russia, and other international partners to design and fabricate 61 “dual-use” casks that could be used to transport and store the fuel in a safe and secure manner. To transport the casks, NNSA helped design special rail cars and construct additional rail lines. 

The project also involved the construction of three separate facilities – the Aktau Temporary Cask Storage Site, the Kurchatov Rail Transfer Site, and the long term Cask Storage Facility in Eastern Kazakhstan. 

For a transcript of Ms. Harrington’s speech announcing the completion of the fuel shipments, click here.

For more information on NNSA’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative, click here.

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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 in the nation's national security enterprise. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability, and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; reduces the 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 U.S. and abroad.