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NNSA Announces Return of U.S.-Origin Highly Enriched Uranium Spent Fuel from South Africa

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) today announced the return of 6.3 kilograms (13.8 pounds) of U.S.-origin highly enriched uranium (HEU) spent fuel from a nuclear research facility in South Africa. The operation was completed in partnership with the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa).

“With this return, we have taken another important step in the global effort to minimize the use of HEU around the world, a vital part of implementing President Obama’s nuclear security agenda,” said NNSA Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Anne Harrington. “The completion of this project is another example of the close partnership between NNSA and the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation, and the significant technical expertise and professionalism of Necsa were key factors in the success of the operation.”

At the Washington Nuclear Security Summit hosted by President Obama in 2010, leaders from 47 countries committed to minimizing the use of HEU in civilian application, where technically and economically feasible, and to the timely removal and disposition of nuclear materials from facilities no longer using them. NNSA has worked with international partners to remove, or assist with the disposition of 3,091 kilograms of HEU and plutonium. This includes the removal of 1,249 kilograms of U.S.-origin HEU from sites around the world.

The shipment of U.S.-origin HEU spent fuel from South Africa arrived in the United States on Aug. 16, and will be held in secure storage pending disposition. This effort is the most recent in a long history between the U.S and South Africa to minimize the use of HEU. In 2008, NNSA and Necsa cooperated on the conversion of South Africa’s SAFARI-1 reactor to low enriched uranium (LEU) fuel. In October 2010, NNSA awarded Necsa up to $25 million to support its efforts to produce the medical isotope molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) by using LEU instead of HEU. In December 2010, NNSA and Necsa’s NTP Radioisotopes announced that the first shipment of Mo-99 produced with LEU and approved for patient use had arrived in the United States, making South Africa the world’s first large-scale producer to supply Mo-99 using LEU. Subsequently, in June 2011, NNSA recognized the efforts of Lantheus Medical Imaging, Necsa’s NTP Radioisotopes, and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization for delivering record amounts of LEU-based Mo-99 for use in the United States.

A fact sheet on NNSA’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative is available 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.