Deliveries are 95 percent complete, represents 19,000 nuclear warheads converted to civilian use
WASHINGTON, D.C.–The National Nuclear Security Administration on Monday announced it has monitored the elimination of more than 475 metric tons of Russian highly enriched uranium, or HEU, under a landmark nuclear nonproliferation program, commonly known as Megatons to Megawatts.
The rough equivalent of 19,000 nuclear weapons has been permanently eliminated, the NNSA said in a press release.
A separate agency within the U.S. Department of Energy, the NNSA said deliveries are 95 percent complete under a purchase agreement between the United States and Russia. Under the agreement, Russia converts HEU from dismantled nuclear weapons into low enriched uranium, or LEU. The resulting LEU is delivered to the United States, fabricated into nuclear fuel, and used in nuclear power plants to generate nearly 10 percent of all electricity produced in the U.S. each year. Nearly half of all commercial nuclear energy produced in the U.S. comes from nuclear fuel derived from Russian nuclear weapons, the press release said.
“The HEU Purchase Agreement has reached yet another important milestone on the path towards blending down and eliminating 500 metric tons of Russian weapons HEU,” said NNSA Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Anne Harrington. “The HEU Program has been one of the most successful nonproliferation and material disposition programs in U.S. history and is a success we share with our Russian partners. The president’s nonproliferation goals have been advanced by the hard work and dedication of both U.S. and Russian personnel under the landmark 1993 agreement.”
NNSA’s HEU Transparency Program monitors the Russian HEU-to-LEU conversion process to ensure that all LEU delivered to the U.S. under the agreement is derived from HEU from Russian weapons. The program implements extensive access and monitoring rights during 24 annual monitoring visits to four Russian HEU processing facilities, the press release said. At these facilities, U.S. experts measure and observe HEU processing firsthand, analyze Russian HEU-to-LEU processing forms, and perform measurements with U.S. monitoring equipment. This information allows the U.S. to confirm that Russian HEU-to-LEU conversion activities fulfill the agreement’s nonproliferation goals.
Since 1995, the HEU Transparency Program has conducted 359 monitoring visits to Russian HEU processing facilities, and since 2000, U.S. experts have monitored the elimination of 30 metric tons of Russian HEU each year—roughly equivalent to about 1,200 nuclear weapons per year, the press release said. By the end of 2013, NNSA will conclude transparency monitoring of HEU-LEU conversion activities in Russian nuclear facilities after having monitored the elimination of 500 metric tons of HEU—roughly equivalent to 20,000 nuclear weapons.
The Russian Federation also conducts reciprocal monitoring activities at U.S. facilities to confirm the exclusively peaceful use of all LEU delivered under the agreement.
The United States Enrichment Corporation, or USEC, and Techsnabexport, or TENEX, are the executive agents for the 1993 agreement, with USEC acting on behalf of the U.S. government and TENEX on behelf of the Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation, or ROSATOM.
In its own press release, USEC said the program is on schedule to be complete in November 2013.
“Since 1995, USEC has provided our utility customers with fuel from this truly innovative program that is making the world safer while fueling clean, reliable electricity from their nuclear power plants,” said Philip G. Sewell, senior vice president and chief development officer. “As we prepare for the end of the program this year, we look forward to continuing our long-term supply relationship with Russia through our transitional supply agreement that starts later this year. This transitional supply will help us meet customer needs as the company pursues deployment of our American Centrifuge uranium enrichment technology.”
USEC said the recycling of HEU into LEU begins with a multi-step process at several facilities in Russia. HEU metal is first removed from a warhead, machined into shavings, and oxidized and fluorinated. The resulting highly enriched uranium hexafluoride is then mixed in a gaseous stream with slightly enriched uranium to form LEU suitable for commercial nuclear reactors. The LEU is checked to ensure it meets commercial specifications, transferred to shipping cylinders and sent to a collection point in St. Petersburg, Russia. USEC takes possession of the material there and ships it to USEC’s facility in the United States, where it is inspected and then included in USEC’s inventory for delivery to customers, the press release said.