KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Nearly 50 kilograms of highly enriched uranium has been removed from Japan and returned to the United States as a part of an effort to minimize highly enriched uranium throughout the world.

On August 9, The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) announced the removal of all highly enriched uranium (HEU) from the Kyoto University Critical Assembly (KUCA). This finally fulfills a commitment made at the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit.

Following shipment to the United States, the highly enriched uranium was taken to the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge and the Savannah River Site in Aiken, South Carolina. At these facilities, it will be down blended to low-enriched uranium (LEU) and/or dispositioned.

Over three years, NNSA, MEXT, and Kyoto University transferred 45 kilograms of uranium from Japan to the United States as part of their shared goal to minimize highly enriched uranium throughout the world.

The removal effort was primarily undertaken during the COVID-19 pandemic which added several challenges to the transfer. For example, to finish critical work that could only be performed in person, U.S. technical experts underwent a 14-day quarantine upon their arrival in Japan on four separate occasions.

“Completing this removal campaign was a monumental effort that demonstrates the close nuclear security relationship the United States and Japan enjoy,” Administrator Hruby said. “Minimizing the use of highly enriched uranium in civilian applications allows facilities like KUCA to continue their essential training and research missions without risk that the fuel could be used to produce an improvised nuclear device. I want to thank the team for seeing the job through despite pandemic restrictions.”

DOE/NNSA, MEXT, and Kyoto University hope to convert the KUCA to use LEU fuel by the end of 2023. This way it can carry out its mission of nuclear research and training for Japanese students for years to come.

DOE/NNSA’s Office of Material Management and Minimization works around the world to eliminate the need for, presence of, or production of weapons-usable nuclear material. To date, the office has successfully converted or verified as shutdown 108 research reactors and medical isotope production facilities.

It has also removed or confirmed the disposition of nearly 7,275 kilograms of weapons-usable nuclear material – enough for approximately 325 nuclear weapons.