by David Lowry

"As part of preparations for EU Exit, the UK is establishing a domestic nuclear safeguards regime to ensure that the UK continues to maintain its position as a responsible nuclear state and that withdrawal from Euratom will not result in the weakening of our future safeguards standards and oversight in the UK", Greg Clark, UK Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said in a written statement to the UK Parliament on 14 September (Commons HCWS137).

The UK believes that it is "vitally important" that the new domestic nuclear safeguards regime, to be run by the Office for Nuclear Regulation, is as comprehensive and robust as that currently provided by Euratom (see IPFM Blog post).

The UK claims it "is seeking to conclude new agreements with the IAEA that follow the same principles as our current ones," arguing this will "ensure that the IAEA retains its right to inspect all civil nuclear facilities, and continue to receive all current safeguards reporting, ensuring that international verification of our safeguards activity continues to be robust".

Whatever the outcome of those discussions, the UK asserts it is "committed to a future regime that provides at least the existing levels of assurance." The legislation to provide for this was announced in the Queen's speech and will be brought forward "in due course".

On August 28, 2017, the UK BREXIT department issued a related policy paper Technical note on spent fuel and radioactive waste, which included this important explanation of the UK position:

The UK would expect reciprocal assurance that spent fuel and radioactive waste generated in a Euratom Member State, and present on UK territory on the date of withdrawal, will remain the responsibility of the relevant Euratom Member State. This is the current position set out under Euratom Community Law in accordance with Article 4 of Council Directive 2011/70/Euratom establishing a Community framework for the responsible and safe management of spent fuel and radioactive waste. This principle should apply equally to any radioactive waste recovered as a by-product from the treatment or reprocessing of this spent fuel and radioactive waste.

It adds:

The UK would also expect assurance that spent fuel and radioactive waste generated in a Euratom Member State, and transferred to UK territory following the date of withdrawal as part of contracts or agreements concluded prior to the date of withdrawal, will similarly remain the responsibility of the relevant Euratom Member State.

The technical note provides further information on spent fuel and radioactive waste to support the UK's position published on July 13, 2017, in the UK's position paper on nuclear materials and safeguards.

Meanwhile, Angela Hepworth, Corporate Policy and Regulation Director for EDF Energy (UK) speaking at a House of Lords parliamentary hearing jointly with Dr Mina Golshan, Deputy Chief Inspector at the UK Office for Nuclear Regulation on the impact of Brexit on Britain's energy security, on September 13, 2017, said:

If we fail to have a safeguard regime in place and if we fail to have nuclear cooperation agreements in place from key third countries, we wouldn't be able to share nuclear components.

The forthcoming UK talks with the European Union on Euratom are scheduled to take place in the last week of September 2017.

rr16A new research report, The Use of Highly-Enriched Uranium as Fuel in Russia, (PDF copy) released by the International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM), provides unprecedented details of the military and civilian use of highly enriched uranium (HEU) in Russia, the country which holds the world's largest stockpile of this nuclear weapon-usable material. Russia's HEU stockpile is estimated to be about 680 tons and Russia currently operates more HEU facilities than the rest of the world combined. It is also the only country producing HEU for export.

Edited by Pavel Podvig, a researcher at the Program on Science and Global Security, with contributions by six other leading Russian experts, the report describes Russian programs that use HEU as fuel or have used it for this purpose in the past (as opposed to HEU in weapons use). Russia uses HEU to fuel military and civilian naval reactors, fast neutron power reactors, plutonium and tritium production reactors, research reactors, and critical assemblies. It currently has 58 reactors and critical assemblies that use HEU on land and over 50 HEU-fueled naval reactors. As of 2017, Russia is estimated to use about 8.5 tons of HEU of various enrichments annually, a large fraction of which is weapon-grade material.

The large number of HEU facilities in Russia means that substantial amounts of HEU are constantly moving through the fuel cycle, creating nuclear security risks. HEU poses special concerns since it can be used relatively easily in a simple nuclear explosive device by states with limited nuclear weapon expertise or even by non-state actors. Over the past several decades - and especially since 9/11 - there have been high-level international initiatives to address these risks, especially for HEU in civilian applications.

The new report assesses Russia's contribution to the effort to convert research reactors from HEU to non-weapon-usable low-enriched uranium fuel, and Russia's efforts to repatriate fresh and spent HEU fuel it had supplied to research facilities abroad. It contains a comprehensive list of Russian HEU facilities, a list of all Soviet-origin reactors outside of Russia, and data on the returns to Russia of HEU fresh and spent fuel from these Soviet-origin reactors abroad. The report also evaluates the organizational structure, rules and regulations that govern the security of HEU in civilian research facilities in Russia.

The report finds that, while Russia has been active in returning its HEU from research facilities abroad and has closed down some domestic HEU facilities, it has not made HEU minimization a priority. On the contrary, it is working on a number of new projects that involve the use of HEU and in 2012 resumed production of HEU for export. Thus far, this HEU has been shipped to China's Experimental Fast Reactor, France's Jules Horowitz reactor, and Germany's FRM-II reactor.

The report argues that securing Russia's commitment to this goal requires development of a comprehensive global HEU minimization strategy. Given the variety of applications that use HEU worldwide, such a strategy should include a consistent approach to the use of HEU to fuel high-performance civilian reactors, defense-related research facilities, and naval reactors. The report concludes that, eventually, this effort also must address the material security risks associated with HEU stocks for weapons.

The VNIIEF Research Center in Sarov, one of Russia's nuclear weapon laboratories, is planning to open production of medical isotopes on an Argus-M reactor, which is a modified version of the Argus aqueous homogeneous reactor at the Kurchatov Institute. That reactor was converted to LEU in 2014. The reactor in Sarov will also use LEU.

At the public hearing on the Argus-M reactor project, held in July 2017 in Sarov, Rosatom presented its estimate of the status of the Mo-99 market and provided some information about the isotope production in Russia.

According to Rosatom estimate, market shares of the key Mo-99 producers are as follows: ANSTO (Australia) - 10%, Nordion (Canada) - 20%, Mallinckrodt (Netherlands) - 31%, NTP (South Africa) - 20%, IRE (Belgium) - 14%. Rosatom's own share in Mo-99 production is 4%.

Until recently, the main Mo-99 producer in Russia was the Obninsk branch of the Karpov NIFKhI, which produces about 170 Ci/week. There were also two "regional producers" - the Khlopin Radium Institute (St-Petersburg) and the Tomsk Polytechnic Institute. Several years ago production of the isotope began at NIIAR in Dimitrovgrad.

According to Rosatom, three out of four producers (NIIAR, Tomsk, and NIFKhI) use HEU reactors, two out of four (NIFKhI and NIIAR) use HEU targets. NIFKhI and NIIAR use fission fragments technology, Tomsk an the Khlopin Radium Institute use neutron activation.

The reactor at the Obninsk branch of NIFKhI is the VVR-Ts, the reactor in Tomsk is IRT-T. NIIAR apparently uses several reactors to irradiate the targets. The Khlopin Institute does not operate a reactor. It irradiates Mo-98 targets in RBMK reactor of the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant.

UPDATE: At an IAEA meeting "Opportunities and Approaches for Supplying Molybdenum-99 and Associated Medical Isotopes to Global Markets" held in July 2017 in Vienna, Rosatom representative presented a different set of numbers. The production capacity of the NIFKhI in Obninsk is said to be 350 Ci/week, that of NIIAR - 1000 Ci/week.

It should be also noted that Nordion stopped producing Mo-99 in 2016. Taking these corrected numbers into account, Russia's production capacity is closer to the 12% of the global capacity and 25% of the global demand. (Thanks to Alan Kuperman for the correction.)

Following conversion of the GHARR-1 research reactor, completed in July 2017, the United States in cooperation with Ghana, China, and the IAEA removed all remaining HEU from Ghana. The transfer involved approximately one kilogram of HEU.

With the removal of HEU from Ghana, 33 countries plus Taiwan are now HEU-free (NNSA counts 32 countries plus Taiwan, but its count does not include Iraq).

On September 29, 2017 the International Atomic Energy Agency officially inaugurated the IAEA LEU bank in Kazakhstan. The opening ceremony in Astana was attended by the IAEA Secretary General and the President of Kazakhstan.

The plan to create the bank was approved by the IAEA in December 2010. Core funding for this project, promoted by the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) was provided by Warren Buffett, who contributed $50 million on the condition that IAEA member states provide $100 million in matching funds. The funds were provided by by Norway ($5 million), the United States ($50 million), the United Arab Emirates ($10 million), the European Union (€25 million or $32 million), and Kuwait ($10 million).

In 2012 Kazakhstan offered the Ulba Metallurgical Plant in Oskemen (formerly Ust-Kamenogorsk) as the site for the LEU bank. An agreement between Kazakhstan and the IAEA was signed in August 2015.

The IAEA LEU bank will store up to 90 tons of LEU in the form of uranium hexafluoride. The IAEA bank will join two national guaranteed fuel supply arrangements - the LEU reserve in Angarsk maintained by Russia and the American Assured Fuel Supply, established by the United States.

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved export license XSNM3776 that authorizes a shipment of 3.7 kg of 93.35% HEU (3.45 kg of U-235) to Europe. The material will be shipped to Areva facility in Romans, which will fabricate targets for Mo-99 production. The license was requested by the U.S. Department of Energy in July 2016. It requested export of 7.2 kg of HEU. However, a change of terms of a different license, XSNM3622, left surplus 3.5 kg of HEU at the Areva fuel fabrication facility. Accordingly, NRC issued a license to export a reduced quantity of material. In a letter issued by NRC, the commission presents this decision as a response to the earlier criticism of the continuing practice of exporting HEU to Europe.

by David Lowry

Recently in the United Kingdom a major political debate has broken out over whether the planned departure by the UK from the European Union also must mean the UK's departure from Euratom.

In a debate in the UK Parliament on the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill held on 1 February 2017, the then British minister for Brexit, David Jones, stated clearly the UK Government position on Euratom;

Euratom and the EU share a common institutional framework, including the European Court of Justice, a role for the Commission and decision making in the Council, making them uniquely legally joined.

The Annual report of the Department for Business, Energy and Innovation Strategy (BEIS), which is responsible for nuclear policy, published on 19 July 2017, stated:

We are maintaining a strong nuclear safeguards regime outside of Euratom. Our objective in the negotiations will be to continue a constructive relationship of full co-operation with Euratom after we have left. ... The UK will continue to meet all its international obligations in respect of nuclear safeguards and non-proliferation.

A British House of Commons Library briefing paper on Euratom, published on 7 July 2017, explained that

Leaving Euratom has the potential to impact the UK's current nuclear operations, including fuel supply, waste management, cooperation with other nuclear states, and research. Industry has warned of a "cliff edge" exit that could cause "major disruption to business across the whole nuclear fuel cycle." The UK will need to take on a number of measures to leave Euratom smoothly and some are concerned that the timetable for achieving these measures is ambitious. ... The Queen's Speech [annual UK Government legislative program] contained a Nuclear Safeguards Bill to give the UK's Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) powers to take on the role and responsibilities of Euratom, required to meet international safeguards, and nuclear non-proliferation obligations.

A UK Government position paper Nuclear materials and safeguards issues issued on 13 July 2017 specifies that the government intends to implement the following measures to ensure continuity of its international obligations. The paper states that the United Kingdom will:

  • agree a Voluntary Offer Agreement with the IAEA that sets out the UK's primary safeguards arrangements in international law;
  • take responsibility for meeting the UK's safeguards obligations, as agreed with the IAEA;
  • in line with the specific circumstances of the UK and respecting the UK's current obligations, agree Nuclear Cooperation Agreements between the UK and key non-EU/Euratom States, including the United States, Canada, Australia and Japan - these agreements will underline the UK's commitment to upholding the safeguards obligations agreed with the IAEA;
  • work closely with the European Commission to ensure a smooth transition to its new arrangements, including the setup of the new safeguards regime; and
  • seek to ensure that the UK's new regime provides for continued close cooperation with the Euratom Community.

The UK Government had earlier explained they intend UK nuclear security regulator, the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) to take over from the independent  safeguards inspectors from Euratom, to 'self-police' the British nuclear industry against military misuse.

This is a highly contentious proposal. Although as a nuclear-weapon member of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty the United Kingdom does not have an obligation to place its nuclear activities under IAEA safeguards, right now all its civilian activities are covered by international safeguards, administered by Euratom. Oversight by a national regulator would not be an adequate substitute to Euratom safeguards. The government indicated its willingness to conclude a Voluntary Offer Agreement with the IAEA--the current one, INFCIRC/263/Add.1, relies on Euratom. To provide true continuity of international safeguards, however, the United Kingdom would have to provide the IAEA with additional resources that would allow the Agency to directly implement its safeguards at UK nuclear facilities that are currently under Euratom safeguards.

International monitoring of nuclear facilities and fissile materials is at the heart of the nonproliferation regime and is seen as necessary in any nuclear disarmament regime, including the recently adopted nuclear ban treaty. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards system requires non-weapon states under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to provide detailed information on facilities and materials. Some weapon states have made Voluntary Offers of facilities and materials for IAEA safeguards, and separate Additional Protocols with the IAEA, but while states have seen fit to share this information with the IAEA, they have not made it public. The United States, which has long been the most transparent of the weapon states shows much greater transparency is possible.

In 2009 the United States declared to the IAEA the nuclear sites and facilities that are available for IAEA safeguards as part of U.S. obligations under its Additional Protocol (INFCIRC/288/Add.1) that entered into force on 6 January 2009. The draft list was submitted by President Obama to Congress on May 5, 2009 as House Document 111-37 and was published by the U.S. Government Printing Office. President Obama in his letter of transmittal determined that the information being released was "sensitive but not classified."

At the time, publication of the document generated some controversy, which resulted in the list being taken down from the GPO web site. The publication became the subject of several investigations, including by the Government Accountability Office). GAO reported that "The public release of the draft declaration of civilian nuclear sites and nuclear facilities does not appear to have damaged national security, according to officials from DOE, NRC, and Commerce... [and] these agencies--plus the Department of Defense--had reviewed the list of civilian nuclear facilities and related activities prior to transmitting it to the White House and Congress to ensure that information of direct national security significance was not included."

The original document, "The List of Sites, Locations, Facilities, and Activities Declared to the International Atomic Energy Agency" is currently available through the Federal Depository Library Program Electronic Collection Archive. [UPDATE 08/30/2017: The list has been removed from the GPO web site. It is, however, still available through a number of web sites, such as governmentattic.org, or in the IPFM Library]

The other nuclear weapon states, and the non-weapon states, should authorize the IAEA to make public their additional protocol lists of facilities, and the detailed annual safeguards findings.

The government of Japan released The Status Report of Plutonium Management in Japan - 2016, which details its plutonium holdings. According to the report,

As of the end of 2016, the total amount of separated plutonium both managed within and outside of Japan was approximately 46.9 tons, approximately 9.8 tons of which was held domestically and the rest of approximately 37.1 tons was held abroad.

In 2015, Japan reported having a total of 47.9 tons of separated plutonium, of which 10.8 tons were held domestically.

The change of the amount of plutonium held in Japan reflects several developments. First, 904 kg of plutonium taken off the balance is in MOX fuel that was loaded in two power reactors at the Takahama plant that began operations in 2016 - 720 kg in Unit 3 and 184 kg in Unit 4. Second, in March 2016 331 kg of plutonium was removed from the Fast Critical Assembly in JAERI Tokai Research Establishment and shipped to the United States. At the same time, the 2016 report accounts for 251 kg of plutonium that is contained in the fuel of Monju fast neutron reactor that has not been irradiated. This material was not included in previous reports.

The Tokai reprocessing plant is reported to have separated 244 kg of plutonium (compared to 308 kg in 2015). The plant in Rokkasho has not separated any plutonium.

Of the total of 37.1 tons of plutonium held abroad, 16.2 tons are in France and 20.8 tons - in the United Kingdom. According to the report, "reprocessing of spent fuel contracted out to France has been completed." Japan expects that the amount of plutonium held in the United Kingdom will increase by 1 ton by 2018.