The arrival of the final shipment of low-enriched uranium (LEU) from Russia to the USA marks the successful completion of the Megatons to Megawatts program to downblend weapons-grade uranium.
In 1993, the US and Russian governments signed an agreement for the purchase over a 20-year period of 500 tonnes of Russian 'surplus' high-enriched uranium (HEU) from nuclear disarmament and military stockpiles. These were to be bought by the USA for use as fuel in civil nuclear reactors. Under the deal, the USA transferred to Russia a similar quantity of natural uranium to that used to downblend the HEU.
"The Megatons to Megawatts program made a substantial contribution both to the elimination of nuclear weapons material and to nuclear energy generation in the United States."
Ernest Moniz, US energy secretary
Known as the HEU Agreement, and sometimes referred to as the 'Megatons to Megawatts' program, it was implemented through a 1994 contract between the US Enrichment Corporation and Techsnabexport (Tenex), a subsidiary of Russian state nuclear energy company Rosatom, which acted as executive agents for the US and Russian governments. After the HEU Agreement was signed the US Enrichment Corporation was later privatized, becoming USEC Inc. Since 2000 the program has been under the US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).
Four cylinders containing the final LEU under the program arrived by ship from St Petersburg at the Port of Baltimore in Maryland earlier this week. They had been despatched from Tenex's ECP enrichment plant in Zelenogorsk in Russia's Krasnoyarsk Region on 21 August. The LEU will now be transported to USEC's plant in Paducah in Kentucky and will be incorporated into the company's inventory for future deliveries to customers.
Since 1995, USEC has purchased more than 14,000 tonnes of such LEU, which has involved more than 250 shipments from Russia. This LEU has been used by the USA to fuel its nuclear power reactors, supplying nearly 10% of all US electricity over the past 15 years.
US energy secretary Ernest Moniz commented, "The Megatons to Megawatts program made a substantial contribution both to the elimination of nuclear weapons material and to nuclear energy generation in the United States." He added, "Nearly every commercial nuclear reactor in the United States received nuclear fuel under the program."
Future Russian supplies
While the Megatons to Megawatts program has now been completed, USEC will continue to purchase LEU from Tenex under a multi-year contract signed between the two companies in March 2011. However, unlike the Megatons to Megawatts program, the LEU supplied will come from Russia's commercial enrichment activities rather than the downblending of Russian weapons material.
Under the agreement, Tenex began supplying LEU to USEC in 2013 with the amount set to increase up to 2015 when it will reach about one-half the level supplied under the Megatons to Megawatts program. The agreement includes the mutual option to increase the quantities up to the same level as that program. Deliveries under the contract are expected to continue until 2022.
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News