On Dec. 10, last year, China Nuclear Industry Group Limited (CNPC) announced on its official website that it had completed the low enrichment transformation of microreactor in Nigeria and made positive contributions to the international cause of nuclear non-proliferation.
Behind this low-key, jargon-filled press release, there is an unknown story about nuclear safety: from October to December 2018, China, the United States, Russia and other countries jointly succeeded in transferring a batch of high-concentration nuclear materials from Nigeria to avoid falling into the hands of terrorists. Chinas role in it has also been praised by the American media.
China Nuclear Groups website reported that Nigerias highly enriched uranium arrived in China.
Defense News reported on Jan. 14 details of the cooperation, such as the main funding and security provided by the United States, the departure of Russian companies from aircraft and storage containers, and the transformation of Nigerias micro-reactor with low enrichment, and the reception of highly enriched uranium after transfer by China.
The article praises China has played a key role in the transportation and storage of nuclear materials. Despite trade frictions between the two countries, bilateral and multilateral cooperation has not been hindered in areas such as nuclear security with common interests.
China Nuclear Group said that the mission contributed Chinas strength to reducing and eventually eliminating high-enriched uranium fuel for civilian use, and made positive contributions to the international cause of nuclear non-proliferation.
Just before the joint rescue, the U.S. Department of Energy issued a ban on Chinas nuclear power technology in early October last year. Hours before Nigerias action began, President Trump also proposed expanding the U.S. nuclear arsenal regardless of the Sino-Russian reaction.
In response, the Russian Satellite News Agency has a penetrating comment: Isolationism and narrow interests of individual countries are not suitable for todays complex and not always safe world.
Defense News Title: How China and the United States Jointly Strive to Transfer Nuclear Material from Nigeria Before Terrorists
One kilogram of highly enriched uranium is enough to make a dirty bomb.
Since the mid-1990s, China has helped Nigeria build a miniature neutron source reactor (NIRR-1) under the framework of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which was put into operation at Ahmedoubelo University in Kaduna in 2004.
Micro reactor (micro reactor) is similar to an experimental instrument. It is simple to operate, but it can carry out neutron activation analysis, testing of probe of nuclear instrument, teaching and training, and production of small amount of isotopes.
This micro-pile contains more than 1 kg of enriched uranium with a abundance of more than 90% and meets the weapons-grade standard. Although it is not enough to make a complete nuclear warhead, it falls into the hands of terrorists and can be combined with conventional explosives to produce a dirty bomb capable of producing a wide range of radioactive materials, with unimaginable consequences.
In Nigeria, such a terrorist organization happens to exist.
At the beginning of this century, Boko Holy Land rose in Nigeria. Aiming at opposing Western culture and education, the organization has made bomb attacks and kidnapped civilians on many occasions. It has also developed to Chad and Cameroon. It was listed as a terrorist organization by the United States in 2013. In 2015, Boko Haram declared its membership in the extremist group Islamic State.
Information map Boko Holy Land terrorist organization
According to the United Nations statistics in 2015, Boko Holy Land terrorist attacks have caused at least 15,000 deaths and 1 million displaced.
Jon Wolfsthal, a nuclear expert who served on the National Security Council, said the materials were ideal targets for Boko Holy Land because microreactors are different from nuclear power plant reactors that are lethal enough to radiate to facilitate transfer, and security measures in universities are often weak.
Ahmed, director of the Nigerian Center for Energy Research and Training, once said, We dont want any nuclear material that can attract terrorists.
China Masters Microreactor Technology to Assist Nuclear Safety
In recent years, the international community has begun to eliminate highly enriched uranium fuel for civilian use from the perspective of nuclear safety. At the Hague Nuclear Summit in the Netherlands in 2014, China also pledged to help relevant countries.
According to statistics, the International Atomic Energy Organization (IAEA) has eliminated stockpiles of highly enriched uranium for civilian use in 33 countries, 11 of which are in Africa.
The success of Nigerias transfer mission can not be separated from Chinas technological achievements in the transformation of low concentration microreactor.
Microreactor low enrichment refers to the replacement of highly enriched uranium assemblies with low enriched uranium assemblies without changing core size. The retrofitted microreactor can satisfy all the functions of the original microreactor, with better safety performance and longer fuel life.
In 2016, after five years of tackling key problems, the Chinese Academy of Atomic Energy Science succeeded in reducing the enrichment of nuclear fuel in microreactors from 90% to 12.5% and achieving full-power operation, making China the only country in the world that fully masters the technology of micro-neutron reactor.
Li Yiguo, director of the microreactor room at the Chinese Academy of Atomic Energy Sciences, said at the time, In the past, we used weapons-grade highly enriched uranium as fuel for our microreactor. Once the fuel rods are lost, they may pose a threat to the proliferation of nuclear materials. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has repeatedly proposed that low-enriched uranium (LEU) should be converted into microreactor fuel.
In August last year, under the framework of IAEA, China signed an agreement with the Nigerian government on the transformation of low concentration microreactor. On October 20, CNPC successfully exported new low-enriched uranium fuel. On November 27, the Nigerian microreactor with new fuel reached full power operation.
24-hour loading and unloading window during curfew
On October 20, 2018, nuclear experts from China, the United States, Britain and Norway gathered in Ghana with Russian and Czech contractors to prepare for the shipment of nuclear materials out of Nigeria, Defense News reported.
But religious violence erupted in Kaduna, where the reactor was located, killing at least 55 people. The governor of the state announced a curfew on the 21st, forcing the operation to be postponed.
Time goes by every minute and every second, and the threat of terrorists coveting nuclear materials is increasing. At this critical juncture, after negotiations with the Nigerian Government, the members of the Group of Experts were given a valuable 24-hour window of time.
Beginning at 1 a.m. on the 22nd, experts from many countries, escorted by the First Division of the Nigerian Army, went to the laboratory and removed the nuclear fuel core from the bottom of a 6-metre deep pool and loaded it into a special container TUK145/C weighing 30 tons.
Nigerian scientists are moving the microreactor map source: US Nuclear Safety Agency
In the next more than a month, new low-enriched uranium fuel from China has been successfully put into use in Nigerias microreactor. On the other hand, all parties are preparing and deploying a route to transfer high-enriched uranium.
On December 4, local time, containers containing highly enriched uranium were escorted to the airport by the military and then loaded into aircraft to leave Nigeria. After rolling flights, nuclear fuel containers arrived at Shijiazhuang Airport on June 6 and were transported to the Chinese Academy of Atomic Energy Sciences in the western suburbs of Beijing.
According to CNEC, the representatives of relevant ministries and local departments, CNEC and its member units, the embassies of the United States and Pakistan, the Nigerian former Committee and Russian enterprises witnessed this important moment at the Atomic Energy Institute, including the National Atomic Energy Agency of China, the Civil Aviation Administration of China, Shijiazhuang Customs and other relevant ministries.
The container TUK145/C responsible for transporting nuclear fuel and the rear An-124 transporter are provided by Russia: US Nuclear Safety Agency
China Nuclear Group said that the low enrichment transformation of highly enriched uranium microreactor reflects Chinas determination and commitment to fulfill its international obligations and jointly build an international nuclear safety system. On the basis of Ghanas and Nigerias experience in low enrichment of microreactors, CNG is willing to continue to assist relevant countries in remodeling highly enriched uranium microreactors imported from China and contribute to international nuclear security and nuclear non-proliferation.
US Media: China Plays a Key Role
Defense News said the entire operation cost $5.5 million, of which the United States contributed $4.3 million, with the rest being paid by the United Kingdom and Norway. The containers TUK145/C and An-124 transporters responsible for transporting nuclear fuel are provided by Russia.
Although China has not provided funds, it has played a key role in the transportation and storage of nuclear materials. In particular, recent tensions between the two countries have been caused by trade and technical sanctions.
Even if there is a lack of dialogue between the two sides at the national level because of trade and other issues, technical cooperation between nuclear engineers and laboratories has basically progressed smoothly, Wolfsor said.
On October 11, the U.S. Department of Energy announced the Framework for U.S. Cooperation Policy on Civil Nuclear Energy Projects in China, which calls for a ban on Chinese nuclear power technology, equipment and materials that will directly compete with the U.S. economy. On this basis, the US Nuclear Safety Agency accused China-Guangzhou Nuclear Group of illegal acquisition of nuclear technology in the UK project, and put forward a number of restrictions on Chinas civil nuclear cooperation.
China Radio and Canton Nuclear Group responded that it did not use American nuclear technology in British projects and would retain its legal right to defend its rights.
In addition, the ban forced Terra Power, a U.S. nuclear technology company owned by Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, to abandon cooperation with China Nuclear Group.
On October 22, just hours before the transfer began, US President Trump said publicly that the United States would expand its nuclear arsenal, whether China or Russia feel threatened...
Alexander Gabyev, a Russian scholar at the Carnegie Foundation, said, As a responsible big country, as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and as one of the nuclear powers, China cannot stand idly by on the issue of nuclear non-proliferation. He also said that it is also important for China, the United States and Russia to have the same interests. Although the three countries have political differences in the field of nuclear security, they can and should cooperate.
Andrei Baklitsky, a Russian expert on nuclear non-proliferation and consultant to the Center for Political Studies, introduced that China had actively participated in international nuclear non-proliferation initiatives such as the revision of heavy water reactors in Algeria and the transformation of the Arak heavy water reactor in Iran under the Iranian nuclear agreement.
Russian Satellite News Agency commented on the action: Isolationism and narrow interests of individual countries are not suitable for todays complex and not always safe world.
Source: Dai Lili_NN4994, Responsible Editor of Observer.com