Kazakhstan Secures Its Soviet Nuclear Waste Legacy
Washington, D.C. – November 19, 2010 – Kazakhstan, in cooperation
with international partners, has successfully completed a project to
move 100 tons of highly radioactive material, enough to make nearly 800
nuclear weapons, to a secure storage site. Today, NNSA Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Anne Harrington
joined Kazakhstan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Kairat Umarov, the
United Kingdom’s Ambassador David Moran, and U.S. Ambassador
Richard Hoagland in a ceremony announcing the accomplishment at
a secure storage facility in Eastern Kazakhstan.
Dr. Paul Walker, Director of Global Green USA’s Security and Sustainability Program, congratulated Kazakhstan and the US National Nuclear Security Administration on their success. “With this major achievement, Kazakhstan has further distanced itself from its dangerous Soviet nuclear legacy by securing its remaining weapons-grade materials. This important step further strengthens the nuclear nonproliferation commitment Kazakhstan began by renouncing the nuclear weapons it inherited from the Soviet Union. It also marks further progress towards the goal that U.S. President Obama and other world leaders set for themselves at the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit to secure all nuclear material by 2013.”
It took years of preparation to safely encase the plutonium and highly enriched uranium in casks and to facilitate their movement to a secure underground location in a remote area of northeastern Kazakhstan. The material had originally been produced by a Soviet BN-350 nuclear reactor in Aktau on Kazakhstan’s western border, which was built specifically to provide material for the Soviet nuclear weapons arsenal.
The reactor has long been recognized as a nuclear proliferation risk and was shut down in 1999, although the unused nuclear material it had produced remained on the site. In 2006, a U.S.-Kazakhstan Presidential Joint Statement was issued to announce a cooperative effort to permanently secure this nuclear material. The resources of the Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Industry and New Technology and other government agencies, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative, the United Kingdom’s Global Threat Reduction Program, the Russian Federal Nuclear Center, and several Russian design and construction facilities such as “Sevmash” and “Energotex” were all marshaled to complete this immense task without a single safety incident.
Special care was taken to construct rail cars, additional rail lines, and 61 specially-designed casks that could resist the corrosive effects of the nuclear material, and these casks are designed to be absolutely leak-proof for at least 50 years. Each of the 100 ton casks were then shipped 1,500 miles to their permanent storage facility, with a heavy security presence during each of 12 shipments. The storage facility is not far from a major military base, in a very flat region of Kazakhstan. It is believed that it would be very difficult for an extremist group to get access to the material and even more difficult for them to escape with it, much less unnoticed.
In her speech, Ms. Harrington, the new NNSA Deputy Administrator, explained that: “The BN-350 program, and the fact that Kazakhstan and the United States have been committed to it for more than a decade, fully underscores how seriously both countries take our responsibilities to address the challenges of nuclear nonproliferation and global security.”
The text of the joint statement by the co-chairs of the U.S.-Kazakhstan Energy Partnership can be found here.
The text of Deputy Administrator Anne Harrington’s speech can be found here.
Photo credit to the Aktau newspaper “Lada,” www.lada.kz.