Environmental Science Division (EVS) a Division of Argonne National Laboratory
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Highly Enriched Uranium Transparency Program

EVS staff members helped to implement transparency and monitoring measures for the conversion of dismantled Russian nuclear weapons into commercial reactor fuel in the U.S.

For more than a decade, Environmental Science Division (EVS) staff members have helped the Department of Energy (DOE)/National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to implement transparency and monitoring measures under the 1993 U.S.-Russia Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) Purchase Agreement.

In February 1993, the United States and the Russian Federation signed the bilateral HEU Purchase Agreement, which called for the downblending of 500 metric tons of HEU from Russia's dismantled nuclear weapons into low-enriched uranium (LEU). Russian HEU is converted into LEU at four “closed” Russian nuclear facilities and is subsequently shipped to the United States, where it is processed into commercial reactor fuel.

DOE/NNSA implements reciprocal transparency and monitoring provisions to ensure that the 1993 Agreement's arms control and nonproliferation objectives are being met. The HEU Transparency Program (HEUTP) is managed within NNSA's Office of Nuclear Verification (NA-243). The objectives of the HEUTP are to ensure that (1) Russian HEU subject to the Agreement is extracted from nuclear weapons, (2) the same HEU is oxidized, (3) the same HEU is then converted into LEU, and (4) the resultant LEU is delivered to the United States and fabricated into fuel for commercial nuclear reactors.

HEU Transparency participants, including U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow (fifth from left).
HEU Transparency participants, including U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow (fifth from left). [Source: Argonne National Laboratory]

To achieve these objectives, monitoring rights were negotiated between the United States and the Russian Federation. The 1993 Agreement allows U.S. monitors access to specific, in-plant monitoring points at four Russian closed nuclear facilities: the Mayak Production Association, the Siberian Chemical Enterprise, the Electrochemical Plant, and the Ural Electrochemical Integrated Enterprise (UEIE). The Agreement allows for six annual monitoring visits, referred to as “Special Monitoring Visits” (SMVs), to each of the four Russian nuclear facilities. The Agreement also allows for the establishment of a “permanent presence office” in Russia, at which U.S. transparency monitors could maintain continuous access to HEU downblending processes. Beginning in January 1999, Argonne managed the HEUTP Transparency Monitoring Office (TMO), or permanent presence office, at the UEIE facility. DOE/NNSA operated the TMO at UEIE from 1996 to 2012.

EVS responsibilities for the TMO included recruiting monitors and scheduling monitor assignments, preparing the monitors for their trips, providing information to obtain appropriate Russian clearances and visas, coordinating data collection and evaluation, and ensuring that the day-to-day needs of the monitors residing at the TMO were met. EVS staff also analyzed UEIE data that was returned to the United States from the TMO.

EVS continues to support the HEUTP by providing specialists to participate on SMVs to the four Russian facilities and with analyzing monitoring data provided to the United States.

The TMO was a valuable part of the HEUTP. During the TMO's operation, the United States was able to measure directly, through nondestructive assay, the presence of fissile uranium for approximately one-third of all the Russian HEU processed for the HEUTP. No other program has ever had, or is likely to have, this unprecedented access to nuclear facilities in Russia or any other country.

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