NNSA, Oregon State University and Washington State University Complete the Conversion of Two U.S. Research Reactors

Press Release
Oct 2, 2008
Accelerated Efforts Have Led to the Conversion of Five U.S. Research and Test Reactors in the Past Two Years

WASHINGTON, D.C. – This week, the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) successfully converted two U.S. research and test reactors from highly enriched uranium (HEU) to low enriched uranium (LEU).  As part of its nonproliferation mission, NNSA provides support to convert research reactors in the U.S. and around the world that operate on HEU fuel to LEU fuel, which is important to threat reduction efforts that minimize the use of HEU in civilian applications.

"In the past two years, as part of NNSA's accelerated efforts and in close partnership with U.S. universities, we have converted five domestic research and test reactors from the use of highly enriched uranium to low enriched uranium fuel," said NNSA Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation William Tobey.  "We commend the recent efforts of Oregon State University and Washington State University in completing the two most recent domestic research reactor conversions.  These efforts demonstrate NNSA's strong commitment to minimizing the use of highly enriched uranium here at home as well as around the world."

The TRIGA-type HEU research reactors at Oregon State University and Washington State University were converted from the use of HEU to LEU fuel as part of the 2005 North American Security and Prosperity Partnership between the United States, Mexico and Canada.

The partners agreed to convert civil HEU fueled reactors on the North American continent, wherever such LEU fuel for conversion is available, to LEU fuel by 2011.  With the conversions at Oregon State University and Washington State University, the United States has converted five of its six reactors under this agreement.  Mexico has pledged to convert its one reactor in Mexico City, and Canada has pledged to convert three HEU research reactors.

Also this week, a third HEU research reactor began decommissioning through support provided by NNSA.  The Zero Power Physics Reactor (ZPPR), located at the Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory was shut down, and the decommissioning of ZPPR will allow for the removal of several tons of HEU from the facility.  With previous domestic and international conversions, NNSA has now converted or verified the shutdown of a cumulative total of 59 HEU research reactors.

These conversions highlight the U.S. commitment beyond the 2005 Bratislava Joint Statement on Nuclear Security Cooperation issued by President Bush and former President Putin in February 2005. Under that Presidential Joint Statement, the United States and Russia agreed to work together to convert more than 30 U.S. and Russian-supplied research reactors internationally. Since the Bratislava Joint Statement in February 2005, 13 international research and test reactors have either been converted to LEU or been verified as shut down. As part of NNSA's accelerated efforts to convert domestic HEU research and test reactors, the research reactor at Purdue University was converted in September 2007 and the research reactors at Texas A&M and the University of Florida were converted in September 2006.

The two conversions and decommissioning come as experts prepare to meet in Washington, DC for the 30th anniversary International Meeting on Reduced Enrichment for Research and Test Reactors (RERTR), which will take place October 5-9, 2008.  The conference is hosted by NNSA and the International Atomic Energy Agency and is a unique opportunity for policy makers, researchers, and nonproliferation experts to exchange information on the progress of national and international programs to minimize the use of HEU in the civilian sector.  Additional information on the 30th Annual RERTR meeting can be found at www.rertr.anl.gov.

Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a separately organized 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.

Media contact(s):
NNSA Public Affairs (202) 586-7371