Alternative uses will be found for 200t of the USA’s Cold War stocks of weapons-grade high-enriched uranium (HEU).

US energy secretary Sam Bodman announced to the Carnegie International Peace Conference in Washington on 7 November that the Department of Energy’s (DoE’s) National Nuclear Security Administration would remove 200 metric tons of HEU from use as fissile material in the US atomic weapons programme over coming decades.

The sheer amount of material represents the largest ever such commitment by the USA – the equivalent of about 8000 warheads.

The material, which would come from dismantled weapons, would be used instead in the following ways:

  • 160t would be provided for use in naval propulsion. According to a DoE release, this use postpones the need to construct a new high-enrichment facility for 50 years.
  • 20t would be downblended to a low level of enrichment (LEU) for research or for use as fuel in civilian power or research reactors.
  • 20t would be reserved for space and research reactors that still use HEU as fuel, although much effort is underway to convert the cores of such reactors to use low-enriched fuel.

Bodman also said that the DoE is constructing a new high-security facility at the Y-12 national security complex at Oak Ridge to store all the country’s HEU. He added that although downblending of more HEU had been considered, the new more secure building at Y-12 would be ready before downblending could be accomplished and therefore such a schedule would increase costs without increasing security.

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