Office of the Spokesman
August 23, 2002
- To remove a potential target for theft or terrorist attack, the governments of the United States and Russia reached an agreement with the government of Serbia, endorsed by the Yugoslav government, to work with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) and the Russian Federation to remove a quantity of highly enriched uranium, sufficient to produce 2-1/2 nuclear weapons from a research reactor near downtown Belgrade.
- The 48 kilograms (over 100 pounds) of unirradiated fuel was flown out of Belgrade on August 22 and has been safely secured in Dmitrovgrad, Russia, where it will be "blended down" into low enriched uranium for use as commercial reactor fuel.
- The U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Energy cooperated in the conduct of this project. The cost to the U.S. Government will be between $2-3 million -- the State Department's Nonproliferation and Disarmament Fund contributed about $2 million and the Department of Energy provided technical expertise and costs associated with "blending down" the materials. Nuclear Threat Initiative is a private charitable foundation that helped catalyze the deal by providing $5 million in funding to address radioactive hazards at the Vinca Nuclear Institute. The U.S. Government lacks the authority to fund this critical element of the project.
- Implementation of the project began on August 14 with the arrival of Russian nuclear material transport containers aboard a Russian cargo aircraft. On August 15 and 16, the 5046 cylinders of fresh highly enriched uranium fuel were repackaged from their storage location at the Vinca Institute into their transport containers. U.S. and Russian technical specialists observed the repackaging operation.
- The material has been under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. Inspectors were present during the operation to verify the nuclear material and to apply seals to the containers to assure their integrity during interim storage and transport.
- Special units of the police and military in Yugoslavia provided physical protection during the repackaging operation and the subsequent storage of the material in its transport containers.
- Many details of the transfer of the material to Russia were kept secret by Belgrade authorities, to assure a successful and secure operation. Transfer activities began early in the morning of August 22. The 45-minute trip to the airport was secured by up to 1200 military and police officers, including special operations and anti-terrorist units. A special unit for dealing with hazardous materials was kept on standby in case of an emergency or accident. The material arrived at the Belgrade airport without incident and was loaded into the Russian transport plane, which departed Belgrade after 8:00 a.m. The material arrived in Dmitrovgrad four hours later and was transferred to a secure storage location.
- Project Vinca is a tangible result of the cooperation among the governments of the United States, Russia and Yugoslavia and demonstrates the kind of work that could be done under an international partnership to prevent terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction.
- Yugoslavia is to be commended by the global community for its important contribution to international nonproliferation and counterterrorism objectives.
- The United States Government expresses its thanks to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, co-chaired by Ted Turner and Senator Sam Nunn for the funding provided by its foundation for an essential part of the project. The project is an excellent example of public-private cooperation and how the United States Government and the private sector can work together to find innovative and effective solutions for our world’s greatest nonproliferation challenges.
Released on August 23, 2002