Nuclear power plants can down-blend uranium in warheads

Nov 7 2011 - 5:15pm

(UNEDITED) Presently, U.S. nuclear power not only produces electricity, but greatly strengthens our national security by reducing the threat of clandestine development and use of nuclear weapons by rogue nations and terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda.

Since 1994, surplus Russian nuclear weapon material previously targeted at U.S. cities is now being converted into low-enriched uranium (LEU) for commercial reactor fuel in U.S. nuclear power plants under an agreement made by President George W. Bush with the Kremlin.

The Megatons-to-Megawatts Compact, as it has come to be known, is an enormous success and carries no cost for U.S. taxpayers. The Compact has shown how nuclear power plants not only provide clean energy and reduce America's energy dependence on foreign countries, but can peacefully consume and render harmless surplus nuclear weapon materials.

According to USEC, the U.S. Government's representative in the deal with Russia, the Compact has now eliminated 433 metric tons of Russia's weapons-grade highly-enriched uranium (HEU) equivalent to 17,335 nuclear warheads by converting HEU into fuel for commercial power reactors. Remarkably, fuel down-blended from Russian nuclear weapons now produces half of U.S. nuclear generated electricity. In a biblical manner, nuclear generated electricity now turns swords into plowshares, the hope of scientists who demonstrated nuclear energy more than a half-century ago.

By 2013, the Compact will down-blend a total of 500 metric tons of Russia's weapons-grade uranium eliminating 20,000 nuclear warheads. Russia has been paid about $8 billion by utilities for the reactor fuel, and the U.S. has agreed to convert surplus HEU from its own nuclear stockpile into fuel for power plants in this country. Also, the U.S. and Russia have each declared 38 metric tons of plutonium to be surplus and this is being reprocessed into mixed oxide fuel (MOX) for electricity production.

The success of this program demonstrates the vital importance of nuclear power for production of U.S. base load electrical power without greenhouse gas emissions and reduction of vulnerable nuclear weapons materials. Anyone concerned about weapons proliferation in the government, the public or the environmental community, should recognize the value of nuclear power plants in destroying Russian highly-enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium (Pu) that might reach terrorists. The burnup and transmutation of these fissile materials (HEU and Pu) in nuclear reactors is the only, absolute way to eliminate fissile material use as nuclear weapons.

Gary M. Sandquist

Salt Lake City


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