International Operation Removes Uranium from Serbia

By Kerr, Paul | Arms Control Today, September 2002 | Go to article overview
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International Operation Removes Uranium from Serbia


Kerr, Paul, Arms Control Today


IN AUGUST, THE United States, Russia, and Serbia, with the approval of Yugoslavia, moved enough highly enriched uranium (HEU) to produce two nuclear weapons from the Vinca Institute of Nuclear Sciences in Belgrade to Russia, where it will be converted into low-grade uranium fuel for commercial reactors.

Under Russian and U.S. monitoring, the 48 kilograms of HEU were repackaged August 15 and 16 into Russian nuclear material transport canisters. The canisters were transported to the Belgrade airport August 22 under heavy security provided by Yugoslav special police and military units and then flown by Russian aircraft to the Ulyanovsk Nuclear Processing Plant in Dmitrovgrad, Russia, where the HEU will be blended down into low-grade uranium fuel, according to the State Department.

Planning for the operation, which was kept secret for security reasons, had been ongoing for approximately one year, according to the Serbian government. U.S. officials had long been concerned that the Vinca Institute, whose reactor was decommissioned in 1984, was not secure enough to protect HEU against theft or terrorist attack.

The State Department said that it contributed approximately $2 million to the project. A Department of Energy team monitored the planning and execution of the operation at Vinca, and additional Energy personnel verified the arrival and integrity of the fuel shipment in Russia and are providing technical expertise for the conversion process, according to the department.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) also participated in the operation. NTI, a private U.S. organization co-chaired by Ted Turner, vice chairman of AOL Time Warner, and former Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA), played an unusual role. NTI contributed $5 million to fund IAEA efforts to decommission the reactor and manage its 2.

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