Route forecast for "Mikhael Dudin" en route from Iran to St. Petersburg. Screenshot from MarineTraffic.com

Here comes Iran’s low-enriched uranium

“Mikhail Dudin” sails into Scandinavia waters this weekend with 11 tons of the material the world feared Iran could use to develop nuclear weapons.
January 29, 2016

The Independent Barents Observer has with the help of MarineTraffic.com been tracking the small Belize flagged cargo vessel since she left the port of Bushehr in the Persian Gulf on December 28 last year.

The vessel is sailing into the North Sea Friday evening and will during the weekend sail around Denmark in Skagerak and Kattegatt before heading across the Baltic Sea towards St. Petersburg in Russia. A strong storm with high waves is currently blowing over the North Sea.

The 11 tons of low-enriched uranium was loaded on board “Mikhail Dudin” following the landmark agreement with Tehran on fulfilling the country’s commitments in the nuclear deal from last summer. The deal says all of Iran’s uranium enriched to 20 percent that is not already fabricated into nuclear fuel rods should be sent out of the country.

Norwegian participation

Norway played a key role in the agreement by helping ensure that Iran’s enriched uranium was replaced by natural uranium. Oslo paid some $6 million for transporting 60 tons of natural uranium from Kazakhstan to Iran by plane.

Rune Bjåstad with the press office of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs says to the Independent Barents Observer that Norway only had inspectors following the transport of natural uranium to Iran, not the transport of material out.

“Regarding the enriched uranium transported out of Iran, there were no Norwegian representatives present. The control was done by a team of inspectors from the IAEA,” Bjåstad informs.

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He says Norwegian representatives were in contact with the inspectors from IAEA who participated in the packing and sealing of the cargo that left Bushehr. The shipment from Iran to St. Petersburg is not paid with Norwegian money.

Voyage route across Scandinavian waters confirmed

Director of Norway’s Radiation Protection Authorities, Ole Harbitz, confirms in an SMS to the Independent Barents Observer that the cargo is en route to St. Petersburg.

It was U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, who in a statement on December 28 confirmed that the shipment takes place on board the vessel “Mikhail Dudin”, The New York Times reported.

Kerry said the cargo includes the uranium that is closest to bomb-grade quality, enriched to 20 percent purity.

The agreement, where Norway played a key role, can in the longer run indirectly open for increased transport of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel along the coast of Norway to the Arctic.

With the deal ensuring no nuclear weapons projects can continue, Iran can again continue to expand its civilian nuclear energy program.

More spent nuclear fuel to sail outside Norway

Simultaneously as Norway in secret assisted with the transportation of natural uranium to Iran, Russia started to construct two more civilian nuclear reactors at existing Russian built Bushehr nuclear power plant. The plant will get uranium fuel from Russia.

That fuel will later have to be shipped back to Russia.

Currently, Murmansk on Russia’s Arctic Barents Sea coast is the port used to take back spent nuclear fuel arriving from other countries. Over the last three years, several shipments of spent nuclear fuel from Soviet built research reactors in Europe have been sailed back to Russia along the coast of Norway to Murmansk. Like in September 2014, when “Mikhail Dudin” secretly transported a load of highly enriched uranium from Poland to the Atomflot base north of Murmansk.

St. Petersburg is the port used when other kinds of radioactive material, like the enriched uranium from Iran, are imported back to Russia.

Back to Russia for reprocessing

Iran is not the only country where Russia’s state nuclear corporation Rosatom will built new nuclear reactors. Deals are signed or under negotiations with China, India and Vietnam. From China, spent nuclear fuel in return to Russia can be sent by railway, but all shipments from Iran, India and Vietnam will have to go by sea.

Rosatom is currently building 19 reactors abroad and has increased its foreign contracts by 60 percent over the last two years to $66,5 billion.

Uranium fuel is normally in the reactors for 3-4 years before being replaced. Then, the fuel will have to be cooled for some years in an on-site pool before it can be transported back to Russia for reprocessing.

The reason why Murmansk is used as import harbor for spent nuclear fuel is because of its suitable infrastructure for loading the special designed containers directly from vessels to railway wagons at Atomflot, the repair base for Russia’s fleet of civilian nuclear icebreakers. From Murmansk, the wagons take the uranium fuel to the Mayak plant north of Chelyabinsk in the South Urals where Russia has its reprocessing plant.

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