Process this: Megatons to megawatts
For 15 years now, a government-industry consortium has been grinding up Russian nuclear warheads for use as fuel in U.S. nuclear power plants.
USEC Inc. said the Megatons to Megawatts (http://www.usec.com) program has eliminated the equivalent of 15,000 nuclear warheads, completing 75% of the program’s goal, and is on schedule to finish down blending the equivalent of 20,000 nuclear warheads into commercial nuclear power plant fuel by the end of 2013.
A cylinder containing warhead-derived low-enriched uranium
The program is a unique, commercially financed government-industry partnership in which 500 metric tons of weapons-grade uranium from dismantled Russian nuclear warheads is recycled into low enriched uranium (LEU) for American nuclear power plants.
USEC, as executive agent for the U.S. government, and JSC “Techsnabexport,” acting for the Russian government, implement this 20-year program.
To date, 375 metric tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU) has down blended into 10,868 metric tons of LEU, enough to produce electricity that would meet the demand for a city the size of Boston or Seattle for approximately 575 years.
Through the end of 2008, USEC had paid the Russian Federation more than $5.6 billion for the SWU component of the LEU delivered since 1995. The total amount paid to Russia through the 20-year life of the contract will exceed $8 billion.
A SWU is a unit of measurement of the effort needed to separate the U235 and U238 atoms in natural uranium in order to create a final product richer in U235 atoms. Material enriched to between 4% and 5% U235 is LEU. We measure SWUs using a standard formula derived from the physics of uranium enrichment.
The recycling of HEU into LEU begins with a multi-step process at several facilities in Russia. First, we remove the HEU metal from a warhead, machine it into shavings, oxidize, and fluorinate it. The resulting HEU hexafluoride then mixes with a gaseous stream with slightly enriched uranium to form LEU suitable for commercial nuclear reactors.
We check the LEU to ensure it meets commercial specifications, transfer it to shipping cylinders, and sent it to a collection point in St. Petersburg. USEC takes possession of the material there and ships it to the U.S.