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NNSA Announces Removal of All Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) from Serbia

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) today announced the removal of 13 kilograms (28 pounds) of Russian-origin highly enriched uranium (HEU) spent fuel from the Vinca Institute of Nuclear Sciences in Serbia.  The shipment is the culmination of an eight-year effort to remove all HEU from Serbia and makes that nation the sixth country to eliminate all of its HEU since April 2009.

“With the removal of all remaining highly enriched uranium from Serbia, we are one step closer to achieving the President’s goal of securing vulnerable nuclear material around the world,” said NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino. “The elimination of this material reduces the risk that it could be stolen by terrorists and highlights Serbia’s commitment to global nuclear nonproliferation efforts.”

NNSA’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) worked in partnership on this mission under a cost-sharing arrangement with the Republic of Serbia, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), the Czech Republic, the Russian Federation and the European Union. In addition to the 13 kg of HEU spent fuel, the shipment also included approximately 2.5 metric tons of low-enriched uranium spent fuel. The removal of this material enhances security not just in Europe, but in the United States and globally, as dangerous material is made less accessible.

In a speech in Prague in April 2009, President Obama called for an international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years. Shipments like the one recently completed from Serbia result in permanent threat reduction because they eliminate weapons-usable nuclear material at civilian sites. With the successful completion of this shipment, NNSA has now removed or assisted with the disposition of 3,031 kilograms of HEU and plutonium – enough material to make more than 120 nuclear weapons.

The material was packaged into specially-designed transportation casks, secured in specialized shipping containers, and transported in an armed convoy from the site to a nearby rail station. The material was then transported by rail to a Slovenian seaport where it was loaded onto a vessel and transported to the Russian Federation for secure storage and disposition. 

The United States and Serbia share a long history of cooperation on nuclear nonproliferation issues. Cooperation at the Vinca Institute began in August 2002 when the U.S. government, Russia, and the IAEA removed 48.4 kilograms (more than 100 pounds) of HEU fresh fuel as part of the first shipment of Russian-origin HEU back to Russia. NTI also played a crucial role in gaining agreement for this shipment and providing financial support.

NNSA also partnered with Serbia in 1996 to improve security at the Vinca facility, and to install physical security upgrades at the site. 

Subsequently, NNSA worked with the Public Company “Nuclear Facilities of Serbia” to install follow-on physical security enhancements at the Vinca spent fuel storage building as well as other buildings that use and store radiological sources. In March 2010, GTRI facilitated a table top exercise at Vinca to improve response procedures and the integration of on-site and off-site response forces.

Photos and video from this operation are available on NNSA’s Flickr and YouTube pages. High-resolution files are available to the media upon request.

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

A fact sheet on NNSA’s efforts to prevent nuclear terrorism 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.