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US-Russian warhead-to-nuclear-fuel programme to wind up by end-2013

02 September 2013

According to World Nuclear News, the final shipment of low-enriched uranium (LEU) from TVEL's JSC Electrochemical Plant (ECP) in Russia's Krasnoyarsk Region was made on 21 August, marking the completion of Russia's commitments under the Megatons to Megawatts programme. The US-Russian agreement to downblend weapons-grade uranium will expire later this year.

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 down-blend the HEU.

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), 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).

Since the agreement was signed, 500 tonnes of Russian weapons-grade HEU - equivalent to 20,000 warheads - have now been downblended into 15,259 tonnes of LEU.

Tenex has estimated that by the time the Megatons to Megawatts program expires by the end of 2013, it would have brought in total revenues of some $13 billion to Russia's federal budget, Interfax reported.

USEC Inc. announced in June that the Megatons to Megawatts programme has completed down-blending of 475 metric tonnes of weapons-grade uranium into fuel for commercial nuclear power plants and is on schedule to complete the program by the end of 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 is scheduled to take delivery of the final material for the programme in November 2013 when the equivalent of 20,000 nuclear warheads will have been down-blended into commercial reactor fuel. To date, the low enriched uranium created by the down-blending could generate electricity that would meet the demand for a city the size of Boston for approximately 730 years. In past years, up to 10% of the electricity generated in the United States came from nuclear power plants using this fuel.

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