Kazakhstan removes spent fuel of VVR-K reactor, commits to eliminate HEU

The U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration announced removal of 36 kg of spent HEU fuel of a research reactor at the Institute of Nuclear Physics, in Alatau, near Almaty. The fuel was transferred in two air shipments to "a secure facility in Russia for permanent disposition", which is most likely the Mayak plant that will reprocess the fuel.

The fuel belonged to the VVR-K reactor operated by the Institute of Nuclear Physics. The reactor probably used 90% HEU fuel in 1967-1988 and was converted to 36% HEU fuel after a modernization that was completed in 1998. It has been undergoing conversion to LEU. It is possible that the removal of spent fuel means that the conversion has been completed. [UPDATE 01/13/15: According to Kazakhstan's authorities, the conversion is not complete yet.] In September 2014 the NNSA worked with Kazakhstan, Russia, and IAEA to remove fresh fuel of the VVR-K critical assembly associated with the reactor.

According to NNSA, it "plans to work with Kazakhstan, Russia and the IAEA to return approximately 50 additional kilograms of HEU to Russia - thereby eliminating all HEU research reactor fuel from Kazakhstan." This would take removal of fuel of two HEU research reactors located at the National Nuclear Center of the Republic of Kazakhstan in Kurchatov. Kazakhstan has already been working with Russia to develop and test LEU fuel for the IVG.1M reactor. The prospects of converting the IGR pulse reactor were uncertain, as it would require development of a new fuel, but it appears that Kazakhstan has now made a commitment to either convert the IRG reactor or, more likely, to shut it down.