Morning Briefing - December 10, 2018
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December 10, 2018

NNSA Minimization Office Helps Send HEU Back to China From Nigeria

By ExchangeMonitor

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) said Friday it helped send more than 1 kilogram of highly enriched uranium back to China from the Nigerian Research Reactor-1 at Ahmadu Bello University near Zaria, Nigeria.

The semiautonomous Department of Energy agency worked with the Chinese government and the U.N.-chartered International Atomic Energy Agency to repatriate the material, according to an NNSA press release.

According to the release, which did not say when the material shipped, “technical experts from the United States, the Czech Republic, China, and Russia monitored the process of loading the fuel into a specialized spent nuclear fuel transportation cask, which was then safely and securely transported by air cargo plane to China.”

The NNSA and its international partners previously helped convert the Nigerian research reactor to run on low-enriched uranium in October, according to the agency’s press release.

The agency helps reduce the accessible worldwide supply of fissile materials through its Office of Material Management and Minimization (M3). Among other things, M3 helps countries convert reactors that use highly enriched uranium into reactors that use low-enriched uranium. The office then helps ship the unneeded bomb-grade uranium back to its country of origin.

According to the NNSA’s 2019 budget request, removing even 1 kilogram of fissile material from a civilian site “reduces the risk of a terrorist acquiring the material for use in a nuclear weapon.” Nigeria is the 33rd nation to give up highly enriched uranium in research reactors.

M3 is roughly a $290-million slice of the NNSA’s roughly $2-billion-a-year defense nuclear nonproliferation budget. That appropriation is about $20 million less than what the office received for fiscal 2018, which ended Sept. 30.

Among other things, the M3 account has become the bill-payer for the NNSA’s early research into dilute-and-dispose: the alternative plutonium-disposal method planned to replace the canceled Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site in Aiken, S.C. Congress approved $25 million or so for dilute-and-dispose design studies in 2019, though lawmakers forbade the NNSA from actually constructing any dilute-and-dispose infrastructure with this money.