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Serbia - Nuclear Weapons Activities

Nuclear research reactors can be used to assist in the manufacture of nuclear weapons in several ways. The most direct link is the use of research reactors for plutonium production, though it is impossible to produce plutonium-239 weapons from zero-power test facilities. The highly enriched uranium (HEU) research reactor fuel can be diverted for weapons production, and HEU can be extracted from spent research reactor fuel. The 6.5 MW RA reactor and hot cells at the Vinca Institute were apparently part of a nuclear weapons development effort initiated by Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito.

On October 5, 1958 the Vinca heavy-water research reactor had a criticality excursion, and one person died as a result of this accident. In principle, this reactor could have produced sufficient plutonium for one weapon over a period of several years. According to some reports laboratory-scale separation of plutonium took place at Vinca in the 1960s, although apparently less than one kilogram of plutonium-239 was separated in the hot cells at the facility. Romania also produced plutonium under the Ceausescu regime, and Iraq separated about five grams of plutonium before the 1991Gulf War.

The RA research reactor was closed in 1984. Some 40 kilograms of fresh HEU and 40kg of heavily corroded HEU are stored at the Vinca Institute of Nuclear Sciences. The HEU, enriched to 80 percent Uranium-235 for the RA research reactor, was supplied by the USSR after 1976. The 40kg of spent HEU fuel is stored in four basins with 200 m3 of water.

Yugoslavia signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1970. In 1996, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) personnel went to the Vinca research reactor near Belgrade to evaluate the safety of the spent fuel pool. The 1997 IAEA mission to Yugoslavia was concerned with the spent fuel pool at the Institute of Nuclear Science at Vinca. Remedial actions have started in the pool in accordance with a plan developed with the Agency's assistance.

The 60 kilograms of 80 percent highly enriched uranium at the Vinca Institute constitutes enough material to make two nuclear weapons of the implosion-type design, or one of the simpler-to-make gun-type design. There is no indication that Serbia has proceeded with activities associated with weaponization of this material. The HEU could be used as a radiological weapon, a conventional munition to which powdered radioactive material would be added. The area on which such a projectile fell would be contaminated with long-lasting radiation.

Yugoslavia had one nuclear plant in Krško, Slovenia. This 630 MWe PWR was built by Westinghouse in 1981. During the war in former Yugoslavia there were threats of missile or terrorist attacks against the plant several times. Under current plans the reactor will be shut down in September 2000. In 1986 Yugoslavia's international call for bids covered four plants to be built by the year 2000 at an estimated cost of $10 billion. This request attracted 10 bids, including a proposal by Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL) for a CANDU nuclear program. The nuclear expansion program eventually collapsed.

During the IAEA Director General’s visit to Serbia in July 2009, Serbia agreed to the Additional Protocol. In cooperation with the United States, European Commission, and IAEA, Serbia began the Vinca Institute Nuclear Decommissioning (VIND) Program in 2002, which was completed in 2010. With the completion of the VIND Program in 2010, no more spent fuel and weapons-grade materials that were left over from the former Yugoslavia remained in Serbia.


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Maintained by Jonathan Garbose
Updated Thursday, May 31, 2012 3:57:7 PM