Culmination of the Four-Year Effort: Overcoming Obstacles to Securing Nuclear Material

Continuing with this week’s coverage of nonproliferation programs that supported President Obama’s Four-Year Effort, NNSA’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) describes the various challenges they faced during operations to remove and secure vulnerable nuclear material around the world. GTRI was at the forefront of implementing the President’s Four-Year Effort, and completion required the hard work and dedication of hundreds of individuals from DOE, the national laboratories, the U.S. federal government and international partners in 27 countries.

The completion of a typical nuclear material removal or elimination project includes a variety of political, technical, and regulatory activities. Throughout this effort, GTRI and its partners overcame several significant technical obstacles. The program’s noteworthy technical achievements included several firsts, including:

  • The first international transport of spent fuel by air, the first transport of both separated plutonium and non-U.S.–origin spent fuel to the United States;
  • The first known reuse of previously irradiated research reactor fuel;
  • The development of new processes and procedures to stabilize plutonium and convert uranium solutions to solid oxide;
  • The first international validation of a U.S DOE–designed Type B nuclear materials package for plutonium; and
  • The development of the first Type C cask to be used for the air transport of spent nuclear fuel.

Culmination of the Four-Year Effort: Overcoming Obstacles to Securing Nuclear MaThese achievements allowed GTRI to address additional forms of nuclear material and accelerate activities to remove material more quickly to achieve the goals laid out in the Four-Year Effort.

In addition, the program had to overcome numerous bureaucratic obstacles (often before or during a shipment), including having a shipment canceled by the foreign government after the spent fuel had been packaged and was ready for transport, having overflight permits canceled at the last minute, and having a transit permit canceled while a shipment was ongoing. In each case, GTRI and its partners were able to quickly implement contingency plans to ensure shipments were completed successfully.

Finally, GTRI and its partners overcame environmental impediments, such as an earthquake in Chile three days before a shipment, a blizzard in Russia that closed airports, and a typhoon that jeopardized a shipment from Vietnam.

In all cases, to make the President’s words reality, the task required the technical expertise, creativity, flexibility, perseverance, teamwork, and dedication of the hundreds of people who worked across the globe on the Four-Year Effort. The world now is a safer place because of their contributions.

Click here to read highlights of GTRI’s contributions to President Obama’s Four-Year Effort to secure vulnerable nuclear material around the world. See which countries and areas have had HEU or plutonium removed and secured by GTRI with this interactive map.

Dec 11, 2013 at 5:00 pm