Russia to supply HEU to research reactors abroad

On January 27, 2014 Russian president issued a decree that eased some restrictions on ownership of fissile materials by changing the list of fissile materials that could be exclusively owned by the federal government. Among other changes, the new version of the list excludes highly-enriched uranium (with enrichment of 20% and higher) “that is to be transferred to the territory of a foreign state according to a decision of the Government of the Russian Federation for the purposes of manufacturing nuclear fuel for research reactors.” Other changes mostly exclude small quantities of various materials from the list.

The HEU change opens a way for Rosatom to supply HEU for research reactors abroad. Under one agreement of this kind, reached in September 2013, Russia will supply HEU for the Jules Horowitz reactor in France. If HEU remained on the federal property list, such a transfer could only take place if it was covered by a bilateral treaty or if Russia were to manufacture fuel elements for the reactor (HEU supplies agreed on in 1990s were not covered by these provisions). From now on, the bar for HEU export is substantially lower, as it would only require a decision by the Russian government. Also, HEU could now be exported in bulk form.

Russia is not the only country that is exporting HEU – the United States has been providing the bulk of HEU for research reactors in Europe. The United States, however, sets a commitment to conversion to LEU (however distant) as a condition of supply and indicated that it would not continue to supply HEU to some reactors (e.g. FRM-II in Germany). It is not clear if Russia will be requiring a similar commitment from its customers or whether it intends to provide HEU to those operators who could not secure HEU from the United States.

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