Reactor Converted and Nuclear Material Removed in Vietnam

Press Release
Sep 17, 2007
NNSA Converts 50th Research Reactor and Removes Fresh Highly Enriched Uranium

HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM -- With assistance from the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the only civilian research reactor in Vietnam was converted from highly enriched uranium fuel to low enriched uranium fuel, and approximately 10 pounds of remaining highly enriched fresh fuel was returned to the Russian Federation.

"This successful fuel return is an example of the international community working cooperatively together to reduce the threat of nuclear terrorism, and is the kind of concrete action that increases U.S., Vietnamese and international security," said William Tobey, NNSA's chief of nuclear nonproliferation.

Through NNSA's Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), the United States worked in cooperation with Vietnam, the Russian Federation, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). U.S. technical experts and IAEA safeguards inspectors monitored as highly enriched uranium fresh fuel was loaded into two Russian TK-S15 specialized transportation containers. The containers were transported under heavy guard and airlifted to a secure facility in Russia where the fresh fuel will be permanently downblended to low enriched uranium, which cannot be used in nuclear weapons.

NNSA provided technical support and funding of approximately $2.4 million for this operation at the Nuclear Research Institute in Dalat, Vietnam, and is also providing physical protection upgrades at the Dalat reactor facility as well as upgrades at other Vietnamese facilities with radiological sources.

"We applaud Vietnam's leadership in taking measures to return this material, and we appreciate the strong support of the Russian Federation and the IAEA for this important international nonproliferation project," said Tobey.

GTRI's mission is to reduce and protect vulnerable nuclear and radiological materials located at civilian sites worldwide. To date, 17 shipments of approximately 500 kilograms (about 20 nuclear weapons worth) of fresh and spent highly enriched uranium have been returned to Russia. The reactor in Vietnam is the 50th research reactor that has been converted under NNSA's programs and represents the continued acceleration of its reactor conversion effort.

The shipment from Vietnam is in accordance with a prioritized, accelerated schedule developed in fulfillment of the 2005 Bush-Putin Bratislava Joint Statement on Nuclear Security Cooperation, which specifically called for the United States and Russia to jointly work to repatriate fresh and spent highly enriched uranium from U.S. and Russian-designed research reactors in third countries.

This shipment was a part of the 2006 joint statement between Presidents Bush and Triet, in which the United States and Vietnam pledged to increase cooperation between the two nations to halt the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and related technology and materials.

NNSA also recently signed an arrangement with Vietnam's Ministry of Science and Technology to work together on efforts to use nuclear energy peacefully. Under the new arrangement, scientists from the Lawrence Livermore and Oak Ridge national laboratories will collaborate with Vietnamese technical personnel on specific measures that promote nuclear nonproliferation and security objectives.

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