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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 25, April 1998

US DOE Spent Fuel Non-Proliferation Project

'Concord will receive first spent fuel shipment in July,' US Department of Energy (DOE) Press Release R-98-044, 13 April 1998


"The US Department of Energy today announced that the first research reactor spent nuclear fuel shipment from Asia through the Concord Naval Weapons Station will arrive in July. To reduce the threat of nuclear terrorism, the United States is recovering spent nuclear fuel rods from foreign research reactors to ensure that the material will not be used to make nuclear weapons.

This first West Coast shipment will include spent fuel rods from research reactors in South Korea and Indonesia en route to the department's Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL). No more than five shipments will pass through Concord over the next eleven years. The program will end in 2009. The Department of Energy's East Coast port of entry, the Charleston Naval Weapons Station in South Carolina, has already safely received four shipments which were transported to the department's Savannah River site outside Aiken, SC.

Preparations are well underway for the July shipment. The States of California, Nevada, Utah and Idaho, along with the Department of Energy have been training emergency responders, hospital workers and law enforcement personnel along the route. To date, more than 2,000 State and local personnel have completed radiological emergency response training. All training will be completed by 1 June.

The spent nuclear fuel being returned contains uranium that was enriched in the United States and was initially exported under President Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace Program. Much of this fuel is highly enriched and can be used in a nuclear weapon.

The fuel rods are shipped in robust 'casks' that are independently tested to withstand severe accident conditions that might result from derailments, earthquakes, fires, collisions, falls and immersion in water. Each cask weighs more than 20 tons. They have eight-inch thick walls of stainless steel and lead. A fuel rod is solid metal, approximately 3 feet long, weighs 7.5 pounds, and is 1.5 inches in diameter.

There have been over 2,500 shipments of spent fuel in the United States since the 1950's. No release of radioactive materials from any of these casks has ever occurred. ...

Track inspection and safety oversight initiatives have commenced. The Departments of Energy and Transportation are in the process of implementing an extensive safety compliance plan..."

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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