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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 25, April 1998

Transfer of HEU from Georgia to UK

Editor's note: see News Review for further details and reaction.

UK Statement

'Georgian Highly Enriched Uranium,' Statement by Foreign Office Minister of State, Mr. Doug Henderson, House of Commons, 22 April 1998; Foreign and Commonwealth Office Daily Bulletin, 23 April 1998.

Full text

"The United Kingdom will shortly take delivery of approximately 5 kilogrammes of fresh and spent Highly Enriched Uranium fuel which has been held at a civil research reactor in Tbilisi, in Georgia.

The Government's decision to accept the fuel was made in support of our policy on non-proliferation and our obligations to enhance security and safety. UK and US experts who examined the Georgian reactor site concluded that the fuel was inadequately protected. Given that highly enriched uranium of this type is ideally suited for use in a nuclear weapon, it was essential that it was moved to a secure location. The fact that the UK is taking the material is an indication of the UK's strong commitment to the nuclear non-proliferation regime. We will be making a significant contribution to international security. As the House will know the 1996 summit in Moscow reaffirmed the commitment of the G8 countries to take action in support of this aim.

Other G8 countries are contributing to the international nuclear-non proliferation regime. The US, for example, has taken 600 kilogrammes of highly enriched uranium from Kazakhstan. Russia has taken over 137 kilogrammes of fissile material from Iraq since the Gulf War. France, Germany and Canada are involved in projects to convert stocks of excess plutonium from Russia's dismantled nuclear weapons into fuel for reactors. This government is determined to demonstrate that we too are committed to solving, in a practical way, the problems of nuclear proliferation. The uranium from Georgia will be held by the UK Atomic Energy Authority at Dounreay. The vast majority will be usable immediately by the Authority in its routine production of medical isotope targets which are a vital component in both the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

This amount will permit the manufacture of an additional 5 million cancer treatments.

The spent fuel - of which there is only 0.8 kilogrammes - will result, after reprocessing, in a small amount of intermediate level radioactive waste. As Georgia now has no other nuclear material and no facilities for storing waste, the UK is making a one-off exception to its long-standing policy that waste generated by reprocessing foreign spent fuel should be returned to the country of origin. This small quantity of waste will be retained in the UK. This will add about 2 drums of intermediate level nuclear waste to the existing 14 thousand drums at Dounreay. No decision has yet been made on exactly where it will be stored. The House will be advised on this.

In conformance with International Atomic Energy Agency guidelines, which state that for security reasons movements of nuclear materials should not be made public in advance, we were under an obligation to keep confidential the fact that this material was to be moved from Georgia to the UK. We had, therefore, intended instead to inform Parliament of the details of this project on the day it arrived. Although, in conformance with these guidelines, we are not at this stage able to reveal publicly the date of the arrival of the highly enriched uranium in the UK, we will of course notify Parliament of its arrival."

White House Statement

'Operation Auburn Endeavor,' White House statement, 24 April 1998

Full text

"Today the United States, in close cooperation with Georgia and the United Kingdom, completed the removal of about five kilograms of highly enriched uranium (HEU) from Georgia to the United Kingdom. This operation, named Auburn Endeavor, reflects the continued commitment of our governments to international security and non-proliferation goals. It is the latest in a series of international efforts to safeguard surplus nuclear materials.

Auburn Endeavor originated when the Georgian government sought US help in securing this research reactor fuel stored at the Nuclear Research Center in Tbilisi. The US Departments of Energy, Defense and State have worked to secure and transport the material from Georgia to safe storage in the United Kingdom. To assure the integrity of the mission and safety of personnel, strict security measures were in effect and operational details closely held.

This successful mission demonstrates the importance all three nations place upon stemming the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the strength of our commitment to that objective. The US role in this project was made possible by Congressional support of the Cooperative Threat Reduction and other non-proliferation programs. Auburn Endeavor is a powerful, positive example of how countries can cooperate in practical ways to lessen the dangers of nuclear proliferation."

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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