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Foreign Research Reactor Spent Nuclear Fuel Acceptance

Locations with U.S. Origin Uranium

Argentina

Australia

Austria

Bangladesh

Belgium

Brazil

Canada

Chile

Colombia

Democratic
Republic of Congo

Denmark

Finland

France

Germany

Greece

Indonesia

Iran

Israel

Italy

Jamaica

Japan

Malaysia

Mexico

Netherlands

Pakistan

Peru

Philippines

Portugal

Romania

Slovakia

Spain

South Africa

South Korea

Sweden

Switzerland

Taiwan

Thailand

Turkey

United Kingdom

Uruguay

Venezuela

 

The objective of the Foreign Research Reactor Spent Nuclear Fuel (FRR SNF) Acceptance program is to assist U.S. nonproliferation policy by encouraging and supporting the reduction and eventual elimination of the use of highly enriched uranium (HEU) in civil commerce worldwide through efforts to repatriate U.S.-origin HEU fuel located in facilities around the globe back to the United States.

Beginning in the 1950s, the United States initiated its “Atoms for Peace” program, which provided nuclear technology to foreign nations for peaceful application in exchange for their promise to forego development of nuclear weapons. A major element of this program was the provision of research reactor technology and the HEU needed to fuel the early-design research reactors.

Research reactors have important medical, agricultural, and industrial applications; nevertheless, the HEU contained within the fuel elements can also be used in nuclear weapons. To maintain control over this U.S.-origin material, the spent fuel was returned to the United States. It was then chemically separated or “reprocessed” to extract the uranium remaining.

Before 1964, the United States and the countries operating these reactors entered into individual bilateral agreements to lease the enriched uranium, with specific provisions to return the material after use. After 1964, most agreements were changed to permit the sale of the material to the foreign country. However, those nations were eligible to participate in a program known as the “Off-Site Fuels Policy,” which continued to accept foreign research reactor fuel. In 1978, the United States launched its Reduced Enrichment for Research Test Reactors (RERTR) program, which promoted reactor conversion to low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel. From the start of the RERTR program, reactor operators made it clear that their willingness to convert was contingent upon DOE’s continued acceptance for some period of both HEU and LEU SNF. If DOE did not accept SNF, this would be a disincentive for reactor conversion because there would be no disposition path for SNF fuels.

The “Off-Site Fuels Policy” expired in 1988 for HEU fuels, and in 1992 for LEU fuels. In 1993, DOE determined that an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was needed to evaluate the impacts of implementing a new, long-term FRR SNF Acceptance Policy. The EIS process was begun in October 1993 and concluded with the issuance of the Record of Decision on a Nuclear Weapons Nonproliferation Policy Concerning Foreign Research Reactor Spent Nuclear Fuel (61 Fed. Reg. 25092) on May 13, 1996. DOE issued the ROD announcing the policy, in consultation with the Department of State.

The current FRR SNF Acceptance Policy was designed to complement other nonproliferation programs, specifically the RERTR program. Because implementation of the policy would require substantial interaction among foreign reactor operators and host countries, it was envisioned that the FRR SNF Acceptance program would coordinate extensively with other nonproliferation projects and initiatives.

FRR SNF Acceptance Program Description

  • The program accepts and manages U.S.-origin spent nuclear fuel from 41 countries.
  • The FRR SNF Acceptance program is a voluntary program. High-income countries pay a management and acceptance fee to the United States and pay for the shipment of SNF to the United States. Other-than-high-income countries do not pay this fee, and the United States subsidizes the transportation of their SNF back to the United States.
  • The program accepts both HEU and LEU, although the first priority is HEU.
  • The current program received 31 shipments as of January 2005.
  • In November 2004, the Department of Energyextended the fuel acceptance policy for an additional ten years, until May 12, 2016, for irradiation of eligible fuel, and until May 12, 2019, for fuel acceptance.

Extending the deadline of the program prevents the disruption of important research reactor operations (such as production of medical isotopes) and permits continued fuel acceptance until suitable replacement LEU fuels are qualified and available.