Participation on the RRRFR Program. History of Transport Operations

The primary goal of Russian Research Reactor Return Program (RRRFR) performed within the frame of Global Initiative of Nuclear Thread Reduction is non-proliferation of nuclear materials by means of elimination of accumulated stockpiles of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and conversion of research reactors from operation of HEU fuel to operation of LEU fuel.

Successful implementation of the American Program of SNF repatriation from foreign research reactors for reprocessing and disposition provoked the US Department of Energy to initiate similar work in Russia. In 1999 tripartite negotiations between the USA, Russia and IAEA resulted in identifying more than 20 research reactors in 17 countries with Russian origin fuel: Belarus, Bulgaria, China, Czech Republic, Northern Korea, Egypt, Germany, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Libya, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Serbia. In 2000 the Director General of IAEA sent a letter to the representatives of 15 countries to request for their willingness to return spent highly enriched uranium to the Russian Federation. 14 countries responded positively. On May 26, 2004 inVienna (Austria) the US Energy Minister S.Abraham announced about the Global Initiative of Nuclear Tread Reduction aimed at disposition of vulnerable nuclear and radioactive materials all over the world that is a potential threat both for the USA and international community. On May 28, 2004 the USA and Russian Federation signed the Government-to-Government Agreement concerning cooperation for the transfer of Russian-produced research reactor nuclear fuel to the Russian Federation. This Agreement became the legal basis for cooperation between the USA and RF in Russian research reactor return from the countries positively responded to the appeal of the IAEA Director General.

In February 2005 in Bratislava (Slovakia) President Bush and President Putin signed joint declaration specifying that the USA accepted high responsibility for security of nuclear weapons and fissile materials to exclude the possibility for the weapons and materials to occur in terrorists’ hands. By the joint declaration the bilateral interdepartmental group headed by the US Energy Minister and the head of the Federal Atomic Energy Agency (Rosatom) was arranged to resolve issues on cooperation in the area of nuclear security and supervision over the joint work implementation.

The following Russian enterprises were involved in implementation of the Program: TENEX, PA “Mayak”, SCC RIAR, Volga-Dnepr Airlines, VNIIEF, IPPE, etc. The Sosny R&D Company participated in all stages of Program implementation:

  • design technologies and equipment to load SFA into casks;
  • design transport means to ship casks;
  • prepare approvals to transport SNF packages (certificates, technical specifications for SFA delivery, special requirements for air transportation, etc.);
  • prepare the Unified Project documents;
  • train personnel of reactor installations to handle Russian casks;
  • accompany the cargo, prepare customs documents;
  • certify foreign casks in the RF.


Implementation of the tasks of Global Initiative for Nuclear Threat Reduction started much before signing the declaration, in 2002. The first country from which the nuclear fuel containing HEU was removed was Serbia and Montenegro (Serbia now).

Early in the morning of August 22, 2002 observing all safety requirements automobile caravan with packages containing fresh nuclear fuel of RA reactor crossed the check point of "Vinca" Institute (Belgrade, Serbia) and moved towards the airport. About 50 kilograms of highly enriched uranium was transported to Russia by IL 76TD aircraft of the Volga-Dnepr Airlines. It was the first actual step in implementation of Russian Research Reactor Fuel Return Program. The Project was implemented under IAEA supervision. The operation was completed under conditions of political difficulties of Balkan crisis.

In September 2003 the fresh fuel of VVR-S reactor (IFIN-HH Institute, Magurele) was removed from Romania. About 15 kilograms of highly enriched uranium was transported to Russia by air from Bucharest to Novosibirsk in accordance with the previously established scheme. IL-76TD departed at 21.00 Moscow time on September 21 and landed at 3.00 Moscow time on September 22 in the RF, where the cargo was subjected to customs clearance and incoming inspection.

Within the frame of implementation of RRRFR Program in December 2003 28 fresh fuel assemblies of IRT-2000 reactor containing 17 kg of HEU was removed from Sofia, Bulgaria. The fuel was transported by Russian aircraft AN-12 to the airport of Ulyanovsk and then by truck to the SSC RIAR (Dimitrovgrad). All operations were performed under supervision of the IAEA. The Project was related to the implementation of the parallel program for research reactor fuel enrichment reduction.

In March 2004 88 fresh fuel assemblies were removed from Tajoura Nuclear Research Center (Libya) by AN-12. The total amount of the fresh HEU fuel was 18 kg. The fuel from Libya was transported to the SSC RIAR (Dimitrovgrad). The project including preparation of approvals was performed within two months.

In Summer 2004 it was decided to removed fresh fuel assemblies from the Nuclear Research Institute (Ulugbek, Uzbekistan). After preparation of all approvals more than 10 kg of HEU was transported to the SSC RIAR (Dimitrovgrad) for enrichment reduction program. The fuel was transported in the cargo AN-12 aircraft.

In 2004 – 2007 three transportations of fresh fuel from the Czech Republic were successfully completed. In 2004 HEU was removed from the Nuclear Research Institute Rez and Technical University (Prague). The total mass of uranium was more than 8 kg. In 2006 the pilot transportation of plutonium from NRI Rez by air was implemented.

The project of fresh HEU fuel assemblies removal from Poland (Institute of Atomic Energy, Otwork-Sverk) differed from other projects because the transport documents for FA were lost in time. Therefore the retired designers of RR fuel from Kurchatov Institute were involved in the Project. After the documents were revived and preparatory work was completed in August 2006 about 60 kg of uranium was transported to Dimitrovgrad.

In September 2007 35 fresh VVR-M FAs were removed from the Nuclear Research Institute (Dalat, Vietnam) containing 1.4 kg of HEU. HEU was returned on the condition of LEU FA delivery to Vietnam. Fresh FAs were transported to the SSC RIAR (Dimitrovgrad) by Russian IL-76TD aircraft. All operations were performed under supervision of the IAEA. The Project was implemented within the frame of the program for research reactor fuel enrichment reduction.


Russian shipping containers TK-S15 and TK-S16 for non-irradiated nuclear fuel

Russian shipping containers TK-S15 and TK-S16 for non-irradiated nuclear fuel


 At the beginning of 2004 preparation for transport of irradiated FA of VVR-SM reactor (Institute of Nuclear Physics of Academy of Science of Uzbekistan) started. Unified Project documents were prepared by TENEX. Since SNF removal from Uzbekistan was the pilot project after issuing decrees establishing conditions for SNF import into the RF, the most difficult thing was to prepare special ecological programs and obtain positive outcome of state ecological expertise review of the Unified Project. Nevertheless the first transport of RR SNF from Uzbekistan arrived at PA "Mayak" in January 2006.


Inspection of irradiated SFAs at a research reactor facility

In December 2007 SNF was removed from LVR-15 reactor (NRI Rez, Czech Republic). For the first time SFA were transported in 16 Czech SKODA VPVR/M casks through Slovakia and Ukraine to PA "Mayak". Mass of uranium and plutonium isotopes in SFA was more than 360 kg. For the first time foreign SKODA VPVR/M casks were used for SNF transportation in the RF, the original Certificate was endorsed in the RF.


Russian casks TUK-19 and Czech casks SKODA VPVR/M  for transportation of irradiated RR SFA

In 1998 Latvia Government decided to shutdown research reactor in Salaspils and the question was raised about the future of SNF. After continuous joint work the documents of the Unified Project to import SFA to the RF, that were prepared by the Federal Center for Nuclear and Radiation Safety, passed sate ecological expertise and on May 15, 2008 SNF was transported to PA "Mayak". The fuel was transported in compliance with the Agreement between the governments of the RF and Latvia on cooperation in repatriation of the RR SNF into the RF. The Agreement was signed on December 3, 2007 "to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons and reduce the threat of international terrorism". 

At the end of 2008 operation to remove SNF from IRT-2000 reactor (Institute of Nuclear Researches and Nuclear Energy of Bulgarian Academy of Science) started. 73 SFA in three SKODA VPVR/M casks were transported to the Ukrainian harbor Izmail by the Danube River and loaded into the train. At the beginning of July SFA were successfully transported to PA "Mayak". As a result of this operation SFA storage was emptied and the Bulgarian specialists could proceed with the research reactor operation.

SNF transportation from the Budapest Research Reactor (Hungary) became the pilot sea transportation under RRRFR Program. This decision was made on April 22, 2008 due to difficulties in signing Transit Agreement with the Ukraine. By August 27, 2008 Hungarian colleagues packaged SFA into 16 SKODA VPVR/M casks. In the night of September 16, 2008 packages with SNF left the site of the Institute and the next day they arrived at Koper harbor (Slovenia) and were loaded onto the vessel. On October 11, 2008 the vessel arrived at the Russian harbor in Murmansk and the packages with SNF were transferred to the representatives of PA "Mayak".

In 2007 preparation for transportation of spent fuel assemblies of VVR-K reactor of the Institute of Nuclear Physics in Kazakhstan to the RF started. Russian TUK-19 casks were selected for the transportation. On May 19, 2009 the last fourth train with SNF arrived at PA "Mayak". SNF was transported on TK-5 railcars.

June 29, 2009 witnessed a successful shipment of the spent fuel from the VVR-S research reactor at the Horia Hulubei National Institute of Research and Development for Physics and Nuclear Engineering, Bucharest, Romania. Transportation of the TUK-19 packages with irradiated spent fuel assemblies involved aircraft for the first time in Russian practice. The multi-modality of the shipment received support through specifically designed overpacks based on ISO freight containers. Also, for the first time, the RRRFR program applied the SNF loading via a transfer cask. Following the removal of the "fresh" fuel (September 2003 and June 2009) and the irradiated uranium fuel, Romania had become the third country after Latvia and Bulgaria free from highly enriched nuclear fuel. Also, that year witnessed the removal of the IRT-10 SFAs from the Tajoura Research Center at Tripoli, Lybia.


Multi-modal RR SNF shipments from Hungary and Romania   


 In October 2010, the RRRFR program completed a large project to remove the spent fuel from the Ewa and Maria research reactors from Poland. The project included five shipments for a total of 12 months. The total amount of the HEU fuel removed was more than 450 kg. This project also had the highest amount of the spent fuel per each shipment, 187 kg. The SNF transportation campaign involved the entire fleet of the TUK-19 and SKODA VPVR/M casks available. The shipments took place by rail and sea. The project refitted, certified, and assigned INF-2 class to a sea vessel.


RR SNF shipment from Poland by refitted sea vessel

The Type C package for transportation of radioactive materials with unrestricted activity limits by different transport modes to include aircraft became a further development of the SNF shipping technologies. Designated TUK-145/C, the package was used to transport the RR SNF from Hungary and Vietnam (2013) and the liquid SNF from the IIN-3M research reactor from Uzbekistan (2015).


RR SNF shipments in TUK-145/C



Over a period of 2006-2017, the RRRFR Program has performed SNF shipments from 13 countries to Russia for reprocessing; this required solving a wide range of various tasks associated with preparation and transportation of nuclear fuels of different health with poor infrastructure available involving all transport modes to minimize transiting through third countries. 

The RRRFR experience has been beneficial to internal SNF shipments in Russia and international projects, for instance, the MNSR HEU Take-Back Program.




Nuclear & Enviromental Safety, №1, 2010: Spent fuel transportation by sea

Nuclear & Enviromental Safety, №1, 2011: Multimodal Transports – an Incentive to Improve

Nuclear & Enviromental Safety, №1, 2011: Preparation of the First Air Transport of Spent Fuel Certified to New Requirements

International Conference on the Safe and Secure Transport of Radioactive Material: The Next Fifty Years of Transport - Creating a Safe, Secure and Sustainable Framework, Vienna, Austria, 17-21 October 2011: Licensing Air and Transboundary Shipments of Spent Nuclear Fuel 

Nuclear & Enviromental Safety, №1, 2013: Ten Years of RRRFR Programme

RRFM-2013, S.-Petersburg, Russian Federation, 21-25 April, 2013: Experience in Organization of Irregular Shipments of Radioactive Material

Technical Meeting on Lessons Learned from High Enriched Uranium Take-back Programmes, Beijing, China,  11–14 June 2018:  International Research Reactor SNF Take-Back Programmes as a Booster in Developing the Technologies and Equipment for Spent Fuel Preparation and Transport

International Conference on the Management of Spent Fuel from Nuclear Power Reactors 2019, 24–28 June 2019, Vienna, Austria: International Multi-Modal Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel Through the Example of Research Reactor Spent Fuel Return Programs




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