Cablegate: Cooperation to Meet Supply of Helium-3 for Iaea


DE RUEHC #3312 0131559
O R 131552Z JAN 10



E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (U) This is an action request. Please see paragraph 7.


2. (SBU) Helium-3 (He-3) is an important but rare isotope
used in several civilian applications including medical
imaging and diagnostics, cryogenics, and neutron detection.
The enormous increase in demand for He-3 over the past few
years has resulted in a severe shortage of the gas. The
United States has been a principal supplier but does not have
enough He-3 in stock to meet current international demand.
Diplomatic efforts are underway to raise awareness of the
shortage and find solutions. In the meantime, International
Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) efforts to monitor nuclear
material are already hampered by the shortage in the He-3
supply. Since He-3 is produced by both the United States and
Russia, Washington would like to reach out to Rosatom to
request that they also supply He-3 to the IAEA to support
international nuclear safeguards efforts.



3. (SBU) He-3 has been typically produced by the radioactive
decay of tritium (H-3). It is used in a wide range of
applications, including medical imaging, oil/gas exploration,
cryogenics and low temperature physics, and neutron
detection. Since He-3 is inert and non-toxic, it has found
broad application in neutron detection. As a result, the
increased deployment ) both domestically and abroad ) of
nuclear security-related radiation detection systems has been
a major contributor to the significant reduction of the U.S.
He-3 stockpile. The United States can no longer meet either
its domestic nor international needs for He-3. The United
States is actively working to mitigate the effects of this
shortage, and diplomatic efforts are underway to raise
awareness of the shortage and find solutions.

4. (SBU) Some of the work of the IAEA to ensure proper
safeguards in nuclear facilities and to strengthen
international inspections in order to prevent misuse of
nuclear materials has been dependent on the use of He-3 for
safeguards instrumentation. In particular, nuclear material
accountancy measurements are essential to IAEA safeguards.
He-3 is a critical component of coincidence and multiplicity
counting devices used for such measurements.

5. (SBU) He-3 has been traditionally produced for worldwide
commercial use only by the United States and Russia. Russia
has been selling He-3 at market price. Russia supplies He-3
to the manufacturers of Russian portal monitors and to other
international customers. It is estimated that Russia
supports industrial needs for He-3 by supplying thousands of
liters of the gas to the open market per year. The United
States has been essentially the only supplier of He-3 for
IAEA safeguards instrumentation, providing gas for their
equipment at a discounted price. The manufacturers of the
IAEA safeguards equipment have been mostly U.S. laboratories
and U.S. companies, which in turn purchase the He-3 needed in
the instrumentation from Reuter Stokes. We note that the
He-3 supply process involves not only the supplier country
and the IAEA customer, but also the manufacturers of He-3

6. (SBU) In past years, the United States used its He-3
reserves to support international monitoring efforts.
However, the United States can no longer meet the demand for
He-3. A concerted international effort is needed, with
cooperation from other countries and users to increase
supply, decrease demand, and investigate alternative
technologies to those using He-3. Given Russia,s historical
production of He-3 for commercial purposes, the United States
would like to reach out to our Rosatom counterparts to obtain
Russia,s support in providing their He-3 for IAEA
international safeguards.



7. (SBU) Embassy Moscow is requested to contact the
appropriate official(s) in Rosatom and deliver the message
summarized in the talking points in paragraph 8. Embassy may
also draw on the background in paragraphs 3-6 as needed.


8. (SBU) Post can draw from the following points for use in
its outreach discussions with Russian counterparts.

-- In the past decades, Russia and the United States have
been harvesting and storing helium-3 (He-3) from the
radioactive decay of tritium.

-- Applications for He-3 are diverse, including medical
imaging and diagnostics, oil/gas exploration, and cryogenics.

-- He-3 is the preferred material for neutron detection. It
provides fewer false positives than other techniques, is
inert and non-toxic, has a large thermal neutron cross
section, and allows the manufacture of smaller and lighter

-- There has been an enormous increase in demand for He-3
over the past few years for radiation detectors based on
neutron detection technology. This equipment is used for
nuclear security and safeguards activities in nuclear
facilities and at international borders, as well as for big
science R&D projects (e.g. fusion and large neutron sources).

-- As a consequence of the increased demand, there is a
worldwide shortage of He-3. Greater international
cooperation is needed to increase the supply and decrease the
demand for this valuable resource.

-- The United States has been supplying He-3 for IAEA
safeguards instrumentation by providing the gas to the
companies that manufacture He-3 tubes for use in the IAEA
safeguards equipment.

-- Due to the shortage, the United States will have to cut
its allocation of He-3 for IAEA safeguards significantly.
This could hamper the ability of the IAEA to provide
safeguards equipment around the world.

-- The United States requests that Russia supply some of the
He-3 needed for international nuclear safeguards in support
of the IAEA in order to meet this expected shortfall.

-- In particular, nuclear material accountancy measurements
are essential to IAEA safeguards. The devices currently used
to perform these measurements are coincidence and
multiplicity counting devices, all dependent on the use of

-- Examples of safeguards equipment that the IAEA uses, and
which use He-3, are:

- Epithermal neutron multiplicity counters used for impure
plutonium verification and U-235 verification;

- Active well coincidence counters used for accountancy
measurements at conversion and enrichment plants, and during
dismantlement processes;

- Uranium neutron coincidence counters employed in UO2 fuel
fabrication plants and reactors for accountancy measurements;

- Portable radiation detection equipment for IAEA human
inspection applications worldwide;

- Spent fuel monitors used at reactor sites;

- UF6 verification equipment for enrichment plants;

- Plutonium in-process verification equipment for
reprocessing and fuel fabrication plants;

- Waste assay systems used in enrichment, reprocessing, and
fabrication plants.

-- We understand that Russia,s current capacity to supply
He-3 is limited. However, based on our shared
nonproliferation goals for supporting IAEA safeguards work *
particularly as more countries pursue nuclear energy programs
* the United States seeks Russia,s assistance in freeing up
capacity to supply the IAEA with the He-3 it needs to do its

-- The work of the IAEA is crucial to ensure proper
safeguards in nuclear facilities worldwide.

-- The United States urges Russia to approach the IAEA and
open discussion on whether some of the IAEA,s He-3
requirements can be met with a Russian supply to
manufacturers of He-3 tubes dedicated for use in IAEA
safeguards instrumentation.



9. (U) Washington thanks Post for its assistance. Please
inform State of any response or comment from Rosatom by
January 19, 2010. Department points of contact for this
matter are Jonathan Sanborn (;
202-647-9730), Brendan Plapp (;
202-647-6109), and Zaira Nazario (;

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