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NNSA, Republic of Korea Ministry Agree to Minimize Use of HEU in Nuclear Reactors

VIENNA, Austria – The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) today signed an agreement with the Republic of Korea’s Ministry of Science, ICT & Future Planning (MSIP) to continue cooperation on low enriched uranium (LEU) fuel development. This agreement will facilitate conversion of civilian research reactors in Europe so that the reactors will use non-weapons usable LEU fuel instead of highly enriched uranium (HEU), supporting President Obama’s goal to advance global nuclear security.

The agreement was signed by NNSA Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Anne Harrington and MISP Director for Space & Nuclear Cooperation Kim Dae-Ki during the annual International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) General Conference in Vienna.

“The Republic of Korea is a key partner in the international effort to develop new LEU fuels that allow for the conversion of the most challenging civilian research reactors,” said Harrington. “Today’s agreement is a clear demonstration of both countries’ commitment to working together with the international community to minimize HEU use and further advance global nuclear security, while maintaining core scientific capabilities.”

“Korea is a proud partner in the global effort to minimize the use of HEU and is committed to our ongoing partnership on the development of new LEU fuels to enable HEU minimization. Korea will utilize cutting-edge technology to further advance our shared nonproliferation goals," said Kim.

This agreement builds on NNSA’s nuclear security cooperation with the Republic of Korea and provides support for ongoing efforts to convert high performance reactors in Europe and in the U.S. from HEU to LEU fuel. High performance research reactors are needed by government-funded researchers, regulatory bodies, nuclear industry and academia to design, develop, validate, qualify or license nuclear components, systems or facilities and for the study of fundamental nuclear and materials science.

At the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, Republic of Korea, Belgium, France, the Republic of Korea and the United States issued a Joint Statement on High-Density LEU Fuel Production to support the conversion of high performance research reactors in Europe so that the reactors will use LEU fuel instead of HEU fuel. The agreement is available here.

In support of the joint statement, the Republic of Korea developed the LEU powder that is used in the new fuel and provided 100 kilograms of the powder at no cost for fuel tests. In the new agreement, the Republic of Korea pledged to provide at no cost any further test material needed to support efforts to develop a high-density LEU fuel for the European high performance reactors.

Other areas of collaboration between NNSA and the Republic of Korea include working with the Republic of Korea’s Custom Service to scan containerized cargo at the port of Busan to detect and interdict illicit transfers of special nuclear and other radiological materials; joint safeguards and security training with Korea’s new Center of Excellence, the International Nuclear Security Academy (INSA) at the Korea Institute of Nuclear Nonproliferation and Control (KINAC); developing a national nuclear forensics library with KINAC and the Korea Atomic Energy Institute (KAERI); and nuclear forensics training through the ASEAN Regional Forum.

NNSA’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) leads the U.S. Government’s efforts to minimize the global use of HEU by converting domestic and international civilian research reactors and isotope production facilities from the use of HEU fuel to non-weapons usable LEU fuel. These efforts result in permanent threat reduction because the use of HEU in the civilian fuel cycle is minimized or eliminated.

For more information on GTRI’s efforts to minimize the use of HEU, 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. 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 U.S. and abroad.