Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Russia agrees to take nuclear waste from Serbia

Russia agrees to take nuclear waste from Serbia

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Russia agreed Wednesday to take 3 metric tons of spent fuel from a closed Serbian nuclear reactor to ensure the radioactive waste does not end up in terrorist hands, officials said.

Thousands of fuel rods are now stored in poorly guarded storage areas just east of Belgrade. The rods contain radioactive material that could potentially be used in a bomb.

The Vinca Nuclear Institute's reactor was built with Russian technology in 1959 and shut down in 2002.

"If some 3 tons of nuclear waste would end up in terrorist hands, the consequences would be very serious," said Sergei Kiriyenko, head of Russia's state nuclear agency.

Kiriyenko signed the US$54 million (euro38 million) transfer agreement Wednesday in Belgrade, but officials did not say how the funds were being provided or when the fuel rods would be moved.

Serbia's Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic, who also signed the deal, said the transfer would abolish fears that Serbia could be a potential target for terrorists seeking nuclear material.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has been working to make the Vinca Nuclear Institute less attractive to thieves. Officials from the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, based in Vienna, said after their last inspection that the facility was "almost like a candy store" for would-be terrorists.

Serbia sent about 48 kilograms (100 pounds) of weapons-grade fuel to Russia in 2002 when Washington, Moscow and Belgrade mounted a joint operation to remove it. The fuel — enough to make at least two simple nuclear warheads — was transferred by truck under tight security from Vinca to Belgrade airport, and then was flown to a Russian government plant about 470 miles (760 kilometers) east of Moscow.

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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