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UN-backed effort to remove dangerous nuclear fuel from Serbia moves ahead

UN-backed effort to remove dangerous nuclear fuel from Serbia moves ahead

Hangar used to store materials in previous decades
A global effort to remove dangerous spent fuel and decommission a Soviet-designed nuclear reactor in Serbia has cleared another major funding hurdle as part of a United Nations-backed initiative to close down potential sources of terrorism and proliferation.

The UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said today that together with the Serbian Government it recently signed a $8.63 million framework agreement with the European Commission (EC) to help fund decommissioning the reactor at Vinca reactor on the outskirts of Belgrade, the capital.

But $25 million more is still needed to complete the project, which includes repatriating to Russia high-enriched uranium (HEU) that could be converted to weapons-grade material.

“The EC support was absolutely crucial to the life of the programme, but we have quite a ways to go to find the remaining $25 million for the project,” said IAEA Special Programme Manager for the Vinca Institute Nuclear Decommissioning (VIND), John J. Kelly.

“The EC contribution serves as a great example and encourages other potential donors to invest in an important and successful project. With radioactive waste, disused sources, and leaking spent fuel that’s almost 45 years old, the Vinca site presents huge radiological challenges.”

Once completed, the spent fuel shipment will comprise the largest in the European theatre, and extra shipping casks have already been built for the project through funding received from the United States.

Thousands of containers of unprocessed radioactive waste and disused sealed radioactive sources must also be removed from old, degraded storage buildings, repackaged and placed into new holding facilities. In a third stage the reactor will be decommissioned.

Security at Vinca had long been a source of concern, with much of the dangerous material and facilities inadequately protected, but thanks to funding and other support from the Serbian Government and the US for upgrades and police, overall security has been substantially improved over the past two years.

International concern over Vinca mushroomed in the 1990s after the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, which led to increased international cooperation to reduce the radiological risk.

The IAEA has been involved in various such projects in recent years from now independent of reunified countries that were part of the Soviet sphere of influence, including the secret airlift from the former East Germany of 270 kilos of HEU that could be used by terrorists to make nuclear explosives and the repatriation from Uzbekistan of fuel containing enough uranium to produce two and a half nuclear bombs.