VietNamNet Bridge – With the transfer of all remaining high enriched uranium “HEU” fuel rods to Russia, Vietnam has demonstrated by concrete actions its policy against the spread of nuclear weapons in the world.
The Da Lat reactor.
The HEU return program began seven years ago, in September 2007 and ended on July 3, 2013. The international community closely monitored this meaningful event.
Early on July 3, a transport aircraft AN-124-100 of the Russian Airline received the last HEU fuel rods from the nuclear reactor at the Nuclear Research Institute in the city of Da Lat, took off from the Bien Hoa airport (Dong Nai province) and safely returned to Russia.
The transport of 11kg HEU on nearly 300 km of road from the Institute for Nuclear Research in Da Lat to Bien Hoa Airport in Bien Hoa city, Dong Nai province was absolutely safe thanks to the protection forces the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Public Security, as well as experts of Institute of Nuclear and the Radiation Safety Agency of Vietnam. The delivery process at the airport took place under the strict supervision of representatives of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Ministry of Science and Technology of Vietnam and more than 40 nuclear experts from the U.S. and Russia.
This important event was also promptly notified at the International Conference on Nuclear Security held in Vienna (Austria), which opened on July 1 with the participation of 120 countries, including Vietnam, to discuss ways to prevent materials for manufacturing nuclear bombs from falling into the hands of extremist organizations.
As soon as in Vietnam, when the specialized truck carried uranium left the Da Lat Institute for Nuclear Research, in Vienna, at the above conference, the IAEA Director General – Dr. Amano, the head of Vietnam’s permanent delegation to the IAEA – Ambassador Nguyen Thiep, U.S. Energy Secretary E. Moniz and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov in turn announced this important event.
And on the same day, immediately after the transport aircraft AN-124-100 of Russian Federal Aviation left Vietnam, the information on Vietnam’s completion of transferring the last 11kg of HEU to Russia was widely announced in the mass media at home and abroad.
Da Lat reactor changes “blood”
The specialized truck carries 11 kg of HEU from the nuclear reactor of Da Lat to Bien Hoa Airport. Photo: IAEA website.
This critical event attracted the public interest because it turned Vietnam into the 11th country in the past four years that no longer owns HEU. This is in the common interest of the world on nuclear security because at present, the world has about 1,440 tons of HEU and 500 tons of plutonium. Most of the volumes are strictly guarded by the military but a certain amount of materials used for civilian purposes are less protected.
The reactor in Da Lat, Vietnam is among more than 20 research reactors in 17 countries using HEU supplied by the former Soviet Union that must converse its fuel from HEU to LEU.
The reactor in Da Lat (TRIGA-Mark II) was built by the US in 1960, with a capacity of 250 kW and uses uranium with the enriched level of 25 percent – U235. The reactor began operation on March 4, 1963, and lasted for about 5 years (1963-1968). It was almost suspended in the period of 1968-1974. In March 1975, all the fuel rods were transported to the U.S.
The restoration and expansion of Da Lat reactor started on March 15, 1983, and completed in October 1983. The new reactor copied the IVV-9 reactor of the former Soviet Union and it officially operated on March 20, 1984, with a capacity of 500 kW. This reactor used 141 HEU fuel rods (36 percent), supplied by the former Soviet Union.
In principle, if HEU is on the wrong hands, it can be further enriched to reach 80 percent to meet the standard to manufacture nuclear bombs. Therefore, as being recommended by the IAEA and the agreement between the United States and the Russian Federation, as well as the Joint Declaration signed in November 2006 in Hanoi between Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet and U.S. President George W. Bush, the research reactors using HEU (U235 ratio of 20 percent or more) must be converted to low enriched uranium (LEU) (U235 rate below 20 percent).
Since 2007 Vietnam cooperated closely with the IAEA, Russia and the United States to implement this program. Specifically, from 9/2007 to 10/2011, the Institute for Nuclear Research completed the replacement of all 141 HEU fuel rods (U235 – 36 percent) with LEU rods (U235 – less than 20 percent), which were also produced and supplied by Russia. For the Da Lat reactor, this is rather a “blood change” and since October 2011 this reactor has only used LEU.
The policy against spread of nuclear weapons
An important task in the process of fuel conversion at the Da Lat reactor is returning all HEU rods totaling 16 kg of HEU, some used and some unused.
The funding for the project to replace HEU by LEU is about $30 million, funded by the United States and Canada, as part of the global project to reduce the use of nuclear fuels that can be used to make nuclear bombs. And the return of 141 fuel rods with 16 kg of HEU from the Da Lat Reactor to Russia was conducted twice.
The first time was in 2007, with 35 bundles of unused HEU fuel rods (including 5 kg of HEU) and the second time was in July 2013, with the remaining 106 bundles of used HEU rods (including 11 kg of uranium).
The complete transfer of HEU to Russia has a great meaning. It demonstrates Vietnam’s compliance with international regulations on the use of nuclear energy for the civilian purposes, including the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapon (Vietnam joined in 1982), the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (Vietnam signed in 1996 and ratified in 2006), the Comprehensive Security Assurance Agreement signed between Vietnam and the IAEA, which took effect in 1990 and the Treaty of Non-Nuclear Weapons in Southeast Asia (Treaty of Bangkok).