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Efforts To Upgrade Nuclear Safety Move Ahead

UN-Backed Efforts To Upgrade Nuclear Safety Move Ahead With Serbian Clean-Up

New York, Oct 6 2006 2:00PM

As part of its multi-national efforts to upgrade nuclear safety and security at the world´s research reactors, the United Nations atomic watchdog agency has concluded a $4.3 million contract to rid a Serbian reactor site of old ‘spent’ nuclear fuel that is posing a serious radiological hazard.

The contract, one of the biggest involving the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) technical cooperation programme, provides for a Russian consortium and Serbia to start the work to prepare about 8,000 old fuel elements for shipping casks at the closed reactor at the Vinca Institute of Nuclear Sciences. Another contract of nearly $5.5 million is being negotiated to cover transport and related tasks.

Four years ago, the United States and Russia joined with Serbia, the IAEA and other partners to remove nearly 50 kilograms of high-enriched uranium, the kind classed as weapons-grade, from the Institute.

The Vinca project is part of IAEA-supported efforts involving over 50 countries that collectively house some 350 research reactors, including shutdown facilities, that were once supplied and fuelled mainly by the US and Russia. The IAEA is involved in various initiatives to minimize the reliance on highly enriched uranium and encourage the return of spent fuel to the country of origin.

The latest operation is no quick or easy job as the fuel contains uranium enriched to varying levels and a good part of it is degrading, making it more dangerous to handle, IAEA said in a news release today.

“The fuel is highly radioactive, it´s leaking, so everything will have to be done remotely,” using special tools designed for remote control, IAEA special programme manager for Vinca Michael Durst said. Once repackaged, the fuel will be put into heavily shielded shipping containers that are specifically licensed for international transport.

“The sooner we get this done, the better for everyone," he said, estimating that about 30 per cent of the fuel could be contaminating the pool where it is stored underwater.

Over the coming months, the IAEA is planning a series of donor conferences to solicit additional funding for the work ahead at Vinca. Initial funding has been provided by the US Department of Energy and the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a private US based non-governmental firm, owned and operated by the Ted Turner Cooperation.


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