Megatons to Megawatts Program
The Megatons to Megawatts Program is the name given to the program that the United States-Russia Highly Enriched Uranium Purchase Agreement, also known as Agreement between the Government of the Russian Federation and the Government of the United States of America Concerning the Disposition of Highly-Enriched Uranium Extracted from Nuclear Weapons of February 18, 1993. Under this Agreement Russia was to supply the United States with low-enriched uranium (LEU), obtained from high- enriched uranium (HEU) found to be in excess of Russian defense purposes. The original proposal for this program was made by Thomas Neff, a physicist at MIT, in an October 24, 1991 Op-Ed in the New York Times. On August 28, 1992, in Moscow, U.S. and Russian negotiators initialed a 20-year agreement to destroy 500 metric tonnes of highly enriched uranium. President George H. W. Bush announced the agreement on August 31, 1992.
Terms of the program
Under this Agreement, United States and Russia agreed to commercially implement a 20 year program to convert 500 metric tons of HEU (uranium 235 enriched to 90 percent) taken from Soviet era warheads, into LEU, low enriched uranium (less than 5 percent uranium 235).The terms of the agreement required that it be implemented on commercial terms without government funds. The agreement named the Department of Energy as the executive agent for the U.S. side. The DOE implemented the newly privatized United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC) as the commercial agent, its executive program contractor. The Russian Federation designated Techsnabexport (TENEX) a commercial subsidiary of its Ministry for Atomic Energy (Minatom), as the agent to implement the program on commercial terms. On January 14, 1994, the commercial contract between USEC and TENEX (HEU-LEU Contract) was signed. The terms also required that the HEU be converted by dilution (downblending) to LEU in Russian nuclear facilities. USEC would then purchase the low enriched fuel and transport it to its facilities in the USA. The first shipment of LEU took place in May 1995.
The value of the process is in two components: the LEU Feed (feed component of natural uranium) and the work involved in the conversion process, measured as separative work units (SWU). Both have separate commercial values. Early disagreements on interpretations of the terms of the governmental and commercial agreements on this issue led to controversy and some delays. Although each shipment contains LEU, the commercial nature of the global uranium market defines the uranium and the enrichment components as separate commercial values and costs.The solution reached was for USEC to continue payments for the SWU component it purchased and also to transfer the equivalent of the LEU feed component to the Russian side. In March 1999 Minatom and the U.S. Department of Energy signed the Agreement Concerning the Transfer of Source Material to the Russian Federation (the Transfer Agreement)and at the same time TENEX signed a Contract with a Group of Western Companies (Cameco, Canada; Cogema, France; Nukem, Germany/USA) regarding the purchase of the LEU Feed. As years passed, numerous commercial contract terms were renegotiated and revised to accommodate mutual interests.
This is the largest and most successful nuclear non-proliferation program to date. The first nuclear power plant to receive low enriched fuel containing uranium under this program was the Cooper Nuclear Station in 1998. The Megatons to Megawatts government-to-government program goal of eliminating 500 metric tons of warhead material is scheduled to be completed in 2013. Currently, the electricity for 1 in 40 American homes, businesses, schools and hospitals is generated by Megatons to Megawatts fuel.
Summary of program
From 1993 through 2013, as USEC estimates, a total of 475.2 metric tons of Russian warhead grade HEU (high enriched uranium, equivalent to 19,008 nuclear warheads) were converted in Russia to 13,723 metric tons of LEU (low enriched uranium) and sold to the US for use as fuel in American nuclear power plants. During the 20-year Megatons to Megawatts program, as much as 10 percent of the electricity produced in the United States was generated by fuel fabricated using LEU from Russian HEU.
During this period, on a comparatively modest basis, the U.S. government has also been converting some of its excess nuclear warhead HEU into power plant fuel. Efforts have also been undertaken to demonstrate the commercial feasibility of converting warhead plutonium into fuel to augment nuclear fuel for U.S. power plants.
Nuclear industry sources forecasted high demand trends that would require finding other uranium supply sources after the completion of the Megatons to Megawatts agreement. By the way, in 2011 TENEX and USEC signed a long-term contract (Transitional Supply Agreement – TSA) for the provision of enrichment services to the United States that could see annual deliveries after 2015 reaching a level of around half the annual supply volume under the HEU Deal.
However, following the financial crisis of 2007–08 and with the ongoing Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, the market has seen an increasing global uranium glut. As global nuclear power production dropped by 4% in 2011 and a further 7% in 2012, the price of uranium oxide dropped from a high of 137 USD/lb in 2007 to the current 35.15 USD/lb (as of September 28, 2013). The nuclear renaissance appeared to falter. (Sustainable energy sources are increasingly being sought. Growing public fear of the costs and possible environmental hazards of nuclear energy has led to an increase in opposition to nuclear power.)
- Russian-U.S. agreement concerning the disposition of highly enriched uranium extracted from nuclear weapons. Arms Control website.
- New York Times September 6, 1992.
- RUSSIAN-U.S. HEU AGREEMENT [Russian-U.S. agreement concerning the disposition of highly enriched uranium extracted from nuclear weapons]. February 18, 1993. Retrieved 28 September 2013.
- DeVolpi, Alexander; Minkov, Vladimir E. et al (2005). Nuclear Shadowboxing: Legacies and Challenges 2. Kalamazoo, Mich.: DeVolpi. p. VII-54. ISBN 0-9777734-1-8.
- "Megatons to Megawatts". U.S. Enrichment Corp.
- TENEX Celebrates 50 Years in the Nuclear Energy Business. TENEX website. 25.07.
- "Disaster for uranium industry as uranium glut grows". September 3, 2013. Retrieved 28 September 2013.
- "The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2013 (WNISR)". July 11, 2013. Retrieved 28 September 2013.
"A Grand Uranium Bargain," Thomas L. Neff (Op-Ed), New York Times, October 24, 1991. "From Soviet Warheads to U.S. Reactor Fuel," William J. Broad, September 6, 1992.
- Comprehensive history of the program's origin by Center for Defense Information
- National Nuclear Security Administration
- USEC website for the Program
- TENEX website
- The U.S.-Russian HEU Agreement: Internal Safeguards to Prevent Diversion of HEU. Princeton.edu
- HEU-LEU Project : A Success Story of Russian-US Nuclear Disarmament Cooperation. Ceness-russia. org
- Uranium Enrichment and Fuel Fabrication - Current Issues (Russia), WISE
- BusinessWire article
- Military Warheads as a Source of Nuclear Fuel, WNA, March 2008