BETHESDA, Md., Sept. 26, 2001 – USEC Inc., the U.S. government’s executive agent implementing the Megatons to Megawatts program, today announced the achievement of a milestone in nuclear nonproliferation.
One hundred twenty-five metric tons of Russian nuclear warhead material–the equivalent of 5,000 nuclear warheads–have been successfully eliminated by conversion to nuclear fuel. USEC purchases the fuel from the Russian Federation for use in commercial nuclear power plants.
The Megatons to Megawatts program is now in its seventh year of commercial implementation by USEC and Russia’s executive agent, Tenex. The program is paid for entirely by USEC purchases, so far totaling more than $2 billion. No taxpayer funds are expended on this program. As the world’s supplier of enriched uranium fuel, USEC markets both the Russian HEU-derived fuel and fuel it produces at its facility in Paducah, KY to its utility customers. When the Russian material is combined with enrichment production at USEC’s Paducah facility, the resulting economics enhance USEC’s competitive market position.
“This achievement marks a substantial reduction in the global threat of nuclear weapons proliferation and demonstrates the successful alignment of national security and commercial interests,” said USEC President and CEO William H. Timbers. “This seven-year commercial partnership between USEC and Tenex has been an unqualified success, and the program is ahead of the schedule envisioned when it was first undertaken.”
In the early 1990s, the U.S. government began discussions with Russia on the concept of converting Russian nuclear warheads into fuel for nuclear power plants. In 1993, the United States and Russia signed a 20-year, $12 billion agreement for the dilution of 500 metric tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU) from dismantled Russian nuclear warheads into low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel.
The agreement specified that executive agents appointed by the U.S. and Russian governments carry out the agreement on commercial business terms. In 1994, USEC and Tenex signed the 20-year commercial implementing contract, now popularly known as Megatons to Megawatts–denoting conversion of nuclear warheads into electricity.
To date, 125 metric tons of Russian nuclear warhead HEU, a quarter of the total 500 metric tons, have been converted into nuclear fuel–enough fuel to meet the electric power needs of the entire United States for six months.
In a progress report on the Megatons to Megawatts program delivered today before the International Nuclear Materials Policy Forum in Washington, D.C., USEC Senior Vice President Philip Sewell said, “USEC and Tenex have established a strong, productive and mutually beneficial commercial partnership. And that partnership has achieved an impressive track record consistent with the objectives and mutual interests of their respective governments. By the end of 2001, additional material equivalent to 700 nuclear warheads will be converted to fuel, increasing the total to 5,700. This is a monumental achievement in nuclear threat reduction and a success story by any measure. We are looking forward to continuing our successful implementation of this program.”
Recent acts of terrorism have raised global concern about potential nuclear warhead material safeguards and the importance of the Megatons to Megawatts program. A proposal is under consideration that would increase the amount of nuclear weapons material to be converted to fuel that USEC will purchase this year.
“We are awaiting government approval to execute these terms,” Sewell said. His complete remarks appear in the News section of USEC’s website, www.usec.com.
? Nuclear Weapons Conversion: How It’s Done-
The conversion from warhead HEU to LEU fuel takes place at several Russian nuclear installations and begins with the removal of nuclear warheads from dismantled Russian strategic and tactical nuclear weapons.
Component Removal: At the Siberian Chemical Enterprise (formerly Tomsk-7) in Seversk and the Mayak Production Association near Ozersk, the HEU metal components are removed from the warheads and machined into metal shavings. The shavings are heated and converted to an HEU oxide form and any contaminants are chemically removed.
Fluorination: At the Siberian Chemical Enterprise and the Electrochemical Plant near Krasnoyarsk, the HEU oxide is converted to highly enriched uranium hexafluoride (UF6), a compound that becomes a gas when heated.
Dilution: At the Siberian Chemical Enterprise, the Electrochemical Plant and the Urals Electrochemical Integrated Plant near Ekaterinburg, the highly enriched UF6 is introduced into a gaseous process stream. There, it mixes with other material and is diluted to less than 5 percent concentration, a level too low to be of any military value but ideal for producing electric power.
Transfer to Cylinders: At the three dilution facilities, the now low-enriched UF6 fuel is transferred to 2.5-ton steel cylinders, then enclosed in shipping containers and taken to a collection point in St. Petersburg, Russia. USEC takes possession of the fuel containers in St. Petersburg, where it is shipped to USEC’s facilities in the United States.
Arrival in Portsmouth: At USEC’s Portsmouth facility in Ohio, the LEU is tested to ensure that it meets appropriate commercial and customer specifications. If necessary, the enrichment level of the uranium fuel can be further adjusted to meet utility customers’ needs.
Shipment to Fabricators: Based on customer instructions, USEC ships the LEU to fabricators (Global Nuclear Fuel, Framatome or Westinghouse) for fabrication into fuel assemblies. The assemblies are then shipped to utility customers as a fuel source for their nuclear reactors.
USEC Inc., a global energy company, is the world’s supplier of enriched uranium fuel for commercial nuclear power plants.