NNSA Successfully Converts Third Domestic Research Reactor in the Last Year

Press Release
Sep 13, 2007
Accelerated Efforts Have Led to the Conversion of Ten Domestic and International Reactors Since 20

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has successfully converted the 1-kilowatt materials test reactor (PUR-1) at Purdue University in Indiana from the use of highly enriched uranium fuel to using low enriched uranium.

"In the past year, we have converted three U.S. research reactors from the use of highly enriched uranium. This clearly demonstrates NNSA's strong commitment to minimizing the use of highly enriched uranium and to accelerating our nonproliferation efforts here at home and around the world," said William Tobey, NNSA's deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation.

As a part of its nonproliferation mission, NNSA, through its Global Threat Reduction Initiative, converts research reactors in the United States and around the world from operating on highly enriched uranium to low enriched uranium fuel, which is not suitable for use in a nuclear weapon. The conversion is part of the Bush administration's efforts to minimize the use of highly enriched uranium in civil applications around the world. NNSA worked closely with the Department of Energy's Office of Nuclear Energy, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and Purdue University to complete this reactor conversion.

Highly enriched uranium is primarily used in research reactors to produce isotopes for medical applications, and early reactor technology used the highly enriched fuel because it was more difficult to achieve comparable performance levels using the low enriched fuel. However, modern reactor approaches allow newer high-density, low enriched fuels while maintaining comparable performance levels, making conversion an attractive option for limiting the availability of highly enriched nuclear material.

Under the 2005 North American Security and Prosperity Partnership, the United States, Mexico and Canada agreed to convert civilian highly enriched uranium research reactors on the North American continent to low enriched uranium fuel by 2011. The Purdue reactor is the third of six U.S. reactors to be converted under this cooperation. Mexico will convert its one reactor and Canada will convert three reactors.

The Purdue conversion also highlights the U.S. commitment beyond the 2005 Bratislava Joint Statement on Nuclear Security Cooperation issued by President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Under the statement, the United States and Russia agreed to work together to convert more than 30 U.S. and Russian-supplied research reactors internationally.

In October, NNSA successfully converted highly enriched uranium research reactors at Texas A&M University and University of Florida. In addition, NNSA confirmed earlier this year that two highly enriched uranium research reactors in China were converted to low enriched fuel - the 125 Megawatt High Flux Engineering Test Reactor (HFETR) and the associated critical facility, called HFETR-C. China also closed the Shanghai miniature neutron source reactor.

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