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End to energy nukes: Russia ships last weapons-derived uranium batch to US

Liquid uranium hexafluoride weir, isotope separation plant; Siberian chemical integrated works (RIA Novosti / A. Solomonov)

Liquid uranium hexafluoride weir, isotope separation plant; Siberian chemical integrated works (RIA Novosti / A. Solomonov)

Russia is set to deliver the last 160 tons of low-enriched uranium to the US as part of the “Megatons-to-Megawatts” program. The fuel obtained from disarmed Russian nuclear warheads has been used to generate about half of total US nuclear power.

Ten cylinders with low-enriched uranium (LEU) will be shipped from St. Petersburg to Baltimore, a Rosatom spokesperson told RIA Novosti.

The shipment marks the end of the 1993 United States-Russia Highly Enriched Uranium Purchase Agreement, which was a spin-off of the landmark bilateral Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).

Under the 1993 agreement, Russia downgraded some 500 tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and sold it to the US. The HEU-LEU contract, also known as the “Megatons-to-Megawatts” deal, encouraged Russia to dispose of its nuclear warheads as part of non-proliferation treaties, and enabled the United States to save on its nuclear fuel production for power plants.

According to US Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, Rose Gottemoeller, the downgraded Russian uranium has been “used by nearly all US nuclear power plants to generate half of the nuclear energy in the United States.”

The uranium – derived from about 20,000 disarmed Russian warheads – has been used to light and heat American homes for 20 years, generating 10 percent of all US-produced electricity, Gottemoeller told a UN committee in October. That amounted to seven trillion kilowatt-hours, according to Rosatom head Sergey Kirienko. A smaller amount of uranium from disarmed American weapons has also been used for the same purpose.

Calling the HEU-LEU treaty a “significant non-proliferation accomplishment,” Gottemoeller said the US looked forward to “celebrating this historic achievement” at the ceremony marking the shipment of the final Russian uranium fuel containers in St. Petersburg.

However, Russia has stressed that it will not be extending the contract, despite US proposals. Although the US paid more than $8 billion for the uranium fuel, and the estimated total payment may reach as high as $17 billion, it still purchased the downgraded uranium at below market price.

Instead, a new agreement has been signed between the United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC) and Russia’s Techsnabexport (TENEX), under which the US will purchase commercially produced Russian uranium fuel for American power producers. According to USEC spokesman Jeremy Derryberry, the new contract is “based on market prices.”

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