Thursday, August 18, 2011

South Africa Ships HEU Back to U.S.

SAFARI-1 research reactor
South Africa has sent 13.8 pounds of used weapon-grade uranium back to the United States, the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration announced on Wednesday (see GSN, June 9).

The semiautonomous branch of the Energy Department worked with the South African Nuclear Energy Corp. [Nesca] to repatriate the spent U.S.-origin highly enriched uranium fuel that had been used at a nuclear research site.

“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,” NNSA Deputy Administrator Anne Harrington said in released remarks. “The completion of this project is another example of the close partnership between NNSA and the South African Nuclear Energy Corp., and the significant technical expertise and professionalism of Necsa were key factors in the success of the operation.”

The material reached the United States on Tuesday and is going into "secure storage pending disposition," according to an NNSA press release.

The nuclear agency has supported withdrawal of 2,754 pounds of U.S.-made highly enriched uranium from facilities across the globe. In total, it has supported the extraction or management of 6,814 pounds of uranium and plutonium that could be used in nuclear weapons, the release states.

South Africa and the United States have collaborated for years on reducing reliance on highly enriched uranium for civilian activities. Last year, the South African nuclear agency received as much as $25 million for a program to promote production of a key medical isotope through use of proliferation-resistant low-enriched uranium rather than highly enriched material (U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration release, Aug. 17).

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