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Enhancement of Safeguards at the ULBA Fuel Fabrication Plant, Kazakhstan

Enhancement of Safeguards at the ULBA Fuel Fabrication Plant, Kazakhstan



The ULBA Low Enriched Uranium Conversion and Fuel Fabrication Plant (or ULBA Metallurgy Plant - UMP) is located at Ust-Kamenogorsk on the river Ulba in North Kazakhstan. The plant was one of the largest nuclear fuel manufacturers in the world and produced fuel pellets for Russian designed RBMK and VVER reactors as well as for the world market.

The plant converted uranium hexafluoride and uranium nitrate received from Russia into uranium dioxide and sintered the material into pellets to be sold back to Russia where they were used for the manufacture of fuel rods. UMP also sold some intermediate products (like UO2 powder) to Western companies. Production capacity was 2000 t/y of pellets. The units relevant for this project were:

  • a chemical processing unit, to convert UF6 to UO2 powder;
  • a metallurgical unit, for fabrication of pellets from the powder.

The design of the installations achieved good operational performance and criticality safety, but nuclear material accountancy within the production lines was not adequately incorporated.

After its independence in December 1991, Kazakhstan formally acceded to the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1994 and the Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA entered into force in 1995. Obligations to be fulfilled included the introduction of instrumentation for accurate Mass/Volume determinations and for necessary Containment/Surveillance devices. The measuring systems required to establish a material control had to be such that the Material Unaccounted For (MUF) would be in the range of the International Target Values (<0.1%).

This project was part of the TACIS Programme of 1998 for nuclear safety in Kazakhstan. It was a follow up to project K5.01/97 (see contract 26277) on the establishment of facilities for mass/volume, containment/surveillance and training at UMP. That project examined the performance of the existing measurement systems for NMAC at ULBA for mass/volume determination and surveillance techniques in the storage areas and aimed at enhancing safeguards by providing measurement systems for the tanks and camera systems for the storage areas. A dedicated training room was also prepared in order to train ULBA staff in the methodology and application techniques of tank calibrations and solution monitoring.

Despite the improvements brought about by the previous project, the situation regarding NMAC at the UMP needed further improvement because there were more than 600 tanks for the storage of liquid Uranium Nitrate at the plant and fewer than half had been fully equipped through the previous project. The present contract was required in order to complete the essential instrumentation.

In addition to the above, the project was intended to complete the Containment/Surveillance system introduced to UMP in the previous project and to extend the system for application at other sites, belonging to the National Nuclear Centre (NNC). NNC groups two nuclear institutes: the Institute of Atomic Energy at Kurchatov (IAE-K) and the Institute of Nuclear Physics at Alatau (INP). The INP Institute provides support and development in the nuclear field with the Almaty VVR-K research reactor. The Almaty research reactor with a 36% enriched Uranium core (10 MW) was situated outside of Almaty proper in the town of Alatau. The Institute of Atomic Energy in Kurchatov supports nuclear research with the IGR pulse graphite reactor and with the two research reactors (IWG and RA) at the Baikal-1 site.

The Contractor was the Joint Research Centre (JRC) Ispra.


The specific objectives of the contract were:

  • To complete the measurement facility with the instrumentation needed for enhancing Safeguards in the Mass/Volume determinations of liquids in the large number of tanks. This comprises Level Measurement Units of different types: Multi-tank Scanning Measurement System (MULTAS), Portable Pressure Measurement Device (PPMD) and Unattended Volume Measurement System (UVMS).
  • To complete the installation of the necessary Containment/Surveillance devices and Surveillance Techniques and to extend the system to application at other equivalent sites (facilities of the National Nuclear Centre – NNC).
  • To verify and maintain the equipment installed on site via training of local personnel.
  • To extend procedures for calibration and solution monitoring with adequate data evaluation on all tanks involved.
  • To provide the appropriate software to enable the Kazakhstan Atomic Energy Committee (KAEC) – responsible for the supervision of nuclear related activities, licensing and inspections - and the IAEA to take a snapshot of the inventory over the whole ULBA plant at any time. (Near Real Time Accountancy).
  • To validate the software installed on site.
  • To train the local operators on the methodology and the use of the software for calibration, solution monitoring, data evaluation and physical inventory verification.

The work of the Contractor included needs analysis, feasibility study and functional analyses regarding an improved measurement system, including the required software and hardware requirements, development of the system and supply of the related equipment and software.


The contract was signed with effective date of 1 April 2003.

The developed equipment was shipped to Kazakhstan in February 2006, but was subsequently subject to long delays at the Kazakh customs prior to its eventual installation at the plant.

The contract was finally completed in January 2008.

General Information

Enhancement of Safeguards at the ULBA Fuel Fabrication Plant, Kazakhstan
€ 879.361,99
Budget year: 
Types of activities: 
WDS - Waste, Decommissioning and Safeguards
Duration (months): 
Contracting authority: 
European Commission
JRC (Joint Research Centre - European Commission)
CRIS number: 
Project reference: 
Decision number: 
Method of procurement: 
Direct Agreement
Signature date: 
Effective contract date: 
Contract end date: 
Closure date: