Vietnam on July 3 returned the last remaining 11 kilogrammes of highly enriched uranium (HEU) from the Da Lat Nuclear Research Institute to Russia, the Ministry of Science and Technology (MoST) announced in Hanoi the same day.
This complex operation was the culmination of a multi-year effort by the MoST, in cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the US’ National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), and Russia’s State Atomic Energy Corporation (ROSATOM).
According to the ministry, Da Lat Research Reactor was upgraded from TRIGA Reactor with a capacity of 250kW (constructed in the early 1960’) and was restarted on March 20, 1984 with the nominal capacity of 500 kW. Regarding the fuels, in 1983 the IAEA provided Vietnam with the budget to buy 140 HEU fuel assemblies (36 percent of U-235) of standard WWR-M2 type, manufactured and supplied by the former Soviet Union.
Following the IAEA’s recommendation, and based on the agreement between the US and Russia, all Research Reactors (RRs) using nuclear fuel of uranium enriched to 20 percent of U-235 or higher have to be converted to use low enriched uranium (LEU) (below 20 percent of U-235), because unlike HEU, LEU cannot be used to make a nuclear weapon. The Da Lat Research Reactor is among more than 20 RRs in 17 countries using HEU fuel supplied by the former Soviet Union, and thus was also required to convert to LEU.
From 2007 to date, the MoST has cooperated closely with the IAEA, NNSA, and ROSATOM to implement the programme.
In November 2011, the Da Lat Nuclear Research Institute (DNRI) successfully completed replacing all remaining HEU fuel, therefore the DRR was converted to operate on LEU fuel. This is one of the 2011 Top Ten Science and Technology Events in Vietnam.
The last remaining HEU fuel in Vietnam - 106 spent HEU FAs (containing almost 11 kilograms HEU) in Da Lat Research Reactor has been transported to Russia on a Russian AN-124-100 cargo plane which left Vietnam on July 3, 2013.
By this shipment, Vietnam has completed its commitment in the Joint Statement signed in November 2006, in Hanoi, by President Nguyen Minh Triet and US President George W. Bush, which stated Vietnam’s participation in the Programme on Fuel Conversion for Dalat Research Reactor (DRR) from Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) to Low Enriched Uranium (LEU).
The MoST stresses that the July 3 event, once again, demonstrates Vietnam’s consistent policy of safe, secured, and peaceful use of nuclear energy. At the same time, it marks a significant milestone in Vietnam’s commitment to implementing the Joint Statement of the Second Nuclear Security Summit, which took place in March 2012 in Seoul, the Republic of Korea.
The ministry affirms that Vietnam will continue to cooperate with the IAEA and the international community in undertaking necessary measures to ensure nuclear safety and security, while implementing the policy of development and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and of non-proliferation.