Vietnam returns bomb-grade uranium to Russia

( Reuters ) - Weapons-grade uranium was removed from Vietnam's sole nuclear reactor at the weekend under anti-terrorism agreements with the United States and Russia, a Vietnamese government agency said.

The report seen on Monday said that the reactor in the southern resort of Dalat would use less than 20 percent of low enriched uranium (LEU) from about 36 percent of highly-enriched uranium (HEU) in a conversion that prevents the uranium from being used to make a nuclear bomb.

The Vietnam Agency for Radiation and Nuclear Safety & Control described the change as a "successful tri-party cooperation between Vietnam, Russia and the United States."

Hanoi and Washington signed a nuclear conversion agreement in March "to protect materials that could be used for harmful purposes."

The same month, Vietnam's Atomic Energy Commission agreed with the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to send any highly-enriched uranium back to Russia, where it was originally imported from.

The Vietnamese safety agency report said the 34 fuel rod bundles of HEU returned to Russia would be replaced by 36 LEU fuel rod bundles by the end of this year.

The conversion contract stemmed from last November's visit to Vietnam by George W. Bush, the second by a U.S. President to Hanoi since the former enemies established diplomatic relations in 1995.

The Dalat reactor was developed by the United States in 1963 and later upgraded by the former Soviet Union. It has a capacity of 500 kw and is used for training and research purposes.

Vietnam, which signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in 1982, plans to start building a nuclear power plant in 2015 to help drive the energy-hungry economy.

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