More than a half-ton of weapons-grade uranium removed from Kazakhstan in 1994
Secret mission was first major success of Nunn-Lugar program, Landmark for U.S.-Kazakhstan cooperation against nuclear proliferation
Declassified documents include after-action report, analysis of HEU samples, Video of C-5 landings in Ust-Kamenogorsk, photographs of uranium
National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 491 Posted November 17, 2014
Edited by David E. Hoffman, Svetlana Savranskaya, and Thomas Blanton
For more information contact:
Sen. Richard Lugar keynotes Sapphire commemoration today
Hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies
1616 Rhode Island Avenue N.W., Room 212-C Together with the Embassy of Kazakhstan Monday, November 17, 5:30 - 7:30 p.m.
Washington, DC, November 17, 2014 -- Twenty years ago this week a team of of American specialists completed an unprecedented operation known as Project Sapphire, working with the government of Kazakhstan to secure more than a half-ton of highly-enriched uranium that had been abandoned from a Soviet submarine project during the Cold War, according to declassified documents, video and photographs posted today by the National Security Archive at George Washington University (www.nsarchive.org).
The documents describe an extraordinary secret mission: In the autumn of 1994, the team of 31 Americans slipped quietly into a remote area of Kazakhstan to secure the 1,320 pounds of weapons-grade uranium and airlift it safely out of the country to the United States. From Oct. 14 to Nov. 11, 1994, working six days a week, 12 hours a day, the teams repackaged the uranium into 448 shipping containers. On November 20-21, two U.S. Air Force C-5 Galaxy airlifters carried the dangerous material and the team to Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, with several aerial refuelings. The uranium was then trucked to the Y-12 plant at Oak Ridge, Tennessee to be blended down.
"Project Sapphire" was the first major operation by the United States to secure vulnerable nuclear material in the former Soviet Union under the Cooperative Threat Reduction program, known as Nunn-Lugar for its principal sponsors, Senators Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Richard Lugar (R-Indiana.) The effort was a joint project of the Departments of Defense, Energy and State; and the three Cabinet secretaries of those departments, William Perry, Hazel O'Leary, and Warren Christopher, proudly broke the news of Project Sapphire in their press conference on November 23, 1994.
The success of Project Sapphire provided a major impetus to the Nunn-Lugar effort, showing that relatively small investments could pay large dividends in securing nuclear material and averting proliferation hazards. The uranium in Kazakhstan was enriched to over 90 percent, and would have been an attractive target for nations seeking to build nuclear weapons.
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