NNSA Helps Poland Convert Reactor, Remove Highly Enriched Uranium

Press Release
Sep 25, 2012

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), working in partnership with the Polish and Russian governments and the National Center for Nuclear Research, announced today the successful conversion of the Maria Research Reactor in Otwock, Poland. As a result of the conversion, the research reactor at the National Center for Nuclear Research was converted from highly enriched uranium (HEU) to low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel. In total, 27 kilograms of Russian-origin HEU fresh fuel and 61.9 kilograms of HEU spent fuel from the facility were returned to Russia. These projects are part of joint nonproliferation efforts between the United States and Poland that support the international community’s effort to secure nuclear materials around the world in four years.

“Poland is a key partner in our nuclear threat reduction efforts,” said NNSA Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Anne Harrington. “The conversion of the Maria Reactor to low-enriched uranium fuel and the removal of nearly 90 kilograms of highly enriched uranium fuel are significant achievements in our mutual efforts to secure and eliminate highly enriched uranium so that it cannot fall into the wrong hands.”

Through its Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), NNSA worked in close partnership with its counterparts at the National Center for Nuclear Research to achieve the Maria Reactor’s conversion from HEU to LEU fuel by providing technical, analytical and licensing support. The manufacture, shipment and storage of the HEU fuel for civilian research and test reactors, such as Maria, can present an opportunity for terrorists to acquire the HEU they seek. Eliminating the use of HEU in these reactors by converting them to LEU fuel provides permanent threat reduction and further prevents terrorists and proliferators from obtaining weapon-useable material.

The conversion of the Maria reactor ensures that the reactor will continue its important mission of conducting critical scientific research, while also promoting safety and security. Under GTRI, 82 research reactors around the world that used HEU have converted to LEU fuel or been verified as shut down.

After the successful conversion of the reactor, GTRI returned the unused HEU fresh fuel and the previously discharged HEU spent fuel to Russia. GTRI cooperated closely with Polish authorities, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Russian Federation to successfully complete the removal operation. The HEU will be downblended into LEU for use in nuclear power plants. Unlike HEU, LEU cannot be used to make a nuclear weapon. With the completion of this operation, GTRI has now removed and/or eliminated more than 3,450 kilograms of HEU and plutonium (enough material for more than 135 nuclear weapons).

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. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; works to reduce 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.