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20-Year Megatons-to-Megawatts Program Ends

Dec. 11, 2013—The final shipment of uranium from dismantled Soviet-era nuclear weapons arrived in the port of Baltimore Dec. 10, destined to become fuel for U.S. nuclear energy facilities.

The shipment, the last of more than 250, concludes the 20-year Megatons-to-Megawatts program, which has fueled nearly half of the nuclear-generated electricity in the United States over the past two decades, almost 10 percent of the country’s total.

Megatons-to-Megawatts―a government-to-government program implemented in 1993 by USEC and Russia’s Techsnabexport (TENEX)―entailed the downblending of highly enriched uranium (HEU) from the equivalent of 20,000 Russian nuclear warheads. Over the past 20 years, more than 500 metric tons of HEU have been downblended to produce more than 14,000 metric tons of low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel. USEC purchased the fuel to sell to nuclear utility customers.

A USEC statement said the company expects TENEX to continue supplying low-enriched uranium until 2022 under a follow-on contract signed in 2011. The agreement will use Russia’s commercial enrichment capability to provide up to half the uranium as under the Megatons-to-Megawatts program, with an option to double that amount.

Nuclear Energy Institute President and CEO Marvin Fertel in a video statement thanked USEC and the U.S. commercial nuclear utilities for their participation in what he called “one of the most significant nuclear nonproliferation initiatives ever.”

The White House said the United States and Russia “remain strongly committed to building on this success, and will continue to collaborate across various fields of nonproliferation, nuclear security and nuclear research and development.”

Susan Eisenhower, the granddaughter of the former president whose famous Atoms for Peace speech 60 years ago kick-started the civilian use of nuclear energy, noted in her blog how the commercial nuclear energy industry, through the Megatons-to-Megawatts program, came full circle to become “one of the most effective ways of reducing or eliminating excess weapons-grade nuclear material.”

“Judging from audience reaction over the years, apparently this program was—unfortunately—one of the best-kept secrets in the energy field,” Eisenhower added.

For more information on the program, including a useful infographic, see NEI’s website.

 

The final delivery of low-enriched uranium from Russia under the Megatons to Megawatts program arrived at USEC’s Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant Dec. 11.