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Fact Sheet: Plutonium Removal from Sweden

March 27, 2012

Sweden has been a global leader on nonproliferation, and was one of the first countries to return highly enriched uranium based spent fuel under the U.S. Foreign Research Reactor Spent Nuclear Fuel (FRR SNF) Acceptance Program, which began in 1996 as part of the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). NNSA has worked collaboratively with Sweden to remove all weapons-usable nuclear material from the country.

Plutonium Removal from Sweden:

At the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit, the United States and Sweden announced the successful removal of plutonium from Sweden. This shipment was completed by NNSA's Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) and was the first shipment of plutonium to the United States under this program. The mission to remove plutonium from Sweden was initiated in 2009 and completed in 2012.

The plutonium was located at AB SVAFO facility in Studsvik, about 100 km south of Stockholm. Over 3 kilograms of plutonium was removed and included both Swedish and U.S. origin material. Prior to removal, the plutonium was securely stored in a special vault under IAEA safeguards. In order to complete this project, NNSA and Sweden needed to develop facilities to stabilize and repackage the plutonium materials.

This inaugural shipment of plutonium under GTRI involved the following, multi-year processes:

•      U.S. Environmental approvals per the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to return weapons usable plutonium to the U.S. under GTRI was obtained in 2010 following a four year review process

•      The plutonium removal required design, construction, regulatory approval, and start-up of a plutonium laboratory in Sweden to stabilize and package the materials for shipment

•      The plutonium shipment was packaged and sealed in accordance with IAEA safeguards prior to shipment

•      A U.S. DOE designed 9975 package certificate was validated for the first time for international shipment of the plutonium materials

•      Material will be dispositioned using existing disposition paths along with approximately 55 metric tons of U.S. surplus plutonium

Plutonium Handling

The stabilization, packaging and shipment of plutonium presents unique challenges due to its radioactivity and pyrophoricity. Other challenges of plutonium handling include:

  • Plutonium powder can be dangerous when inhaled since it emits alpha radiation that can damage living tissue
  • Plutonium materials have to be stabilized at high temperatures to minimize impurities and moisture prior to packaging
  • Specially engineered glove boxes are required to handle, stabilize and package the material
  • Plutonium is typically shipped by land or sea in specially certified packages
  • Shipment of significant quantities of plutonium require Category 1 ocean vessels unlike those used to transport spent fuel

Barack Obama, Fact Sheet: Plutonium Removal from Sweden Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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