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Megatons to Megawatts Program

The Megatons to Megawatts Program is the name given to the program that implemented the 1993 United States-Russia nonproliferation agreement to convert high-enriched uranium (HEU) taken from dismantled Russian nuclear weapons into low-enriched-uranium (LEU) for nuclear fuel.

From 1995 through mid-2005, 250 metric tons of high-enriched uranium (enough for 10,000 warheads) were recycled into low-enriched-uranium. The goal is to recycle 500 metric tons by 2013. Much of this fuel has already been used in many nuclear power plants in the U.S., as it is indistinguishable from normal fuel.

Under the terms of the agreement, both the United States and Russia created government-owned corporations to act as the deal’s executors. The United States set up the United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC), while the Russian Federation created a commercial subsidiary of its Ministry of Atomic Energy (MinAtom), Tekhsnabeksport (“Tenex”). The original deal called for Tenex to downblend its HEU to LEU at MinAtom facilities. USEC would then buy the Separative work unit (SWU) component of this LEU, accepting it in shipments over a 20-year period. The price negotiated came to approximately two-thirds of the 1993 market value of the entire quantity of LEU (the other one-third being the feed component). USEC would then be free to resell the SWU's in compliance with relevant U.S. regulations and international laws. Tenex, on the other hand, would retain title to the uranium component, and would be free to resell it, subject to relevant international agreements and Russian statutes.

These circumventions, though contrary to common sense, are forced by the peculiarities of the uranium market: though there is only one actual product shipped to USEC – five percent low-enriched uranium hexafluoride – USEC holds title only to the value of the services employed to enrich it; i.e., the SWU's. According to the agreement, the actual material that has been produced remains in Tenex’s legal possession. Obviously, it is impossible to physically separate raw materials from the work that has processed them into a finished product. Therefore, when USEC resells the SWU component, it must provide its customers with the entire LEU product it received from Tenex. This leaves it in a barter debt: it owes the physical mass of the material to Tenex. The situation is resolved by USEC’s customers shipping an equivalent quantity of natural uranium feedstock back to USEC – which is then designated as Tenex’s component returned.

In addition, USEC would reimburse Tenex for the cost of the uranium blendstock that the latter used to downblend the original HEU. The reimbursement was to be in the form of a barter payment again in natural uranium, equivalent to the amount the Russians had used (even though Tenex would use 1.5 percent slightly enriched uranium (SEU), not natural uranium, for downblending). Tenex would then be free to resell this natural uranium as well.

Several problems soon arose with the deal. Based on market trends, it became clear that the price agreement negotiated in 1993 was overly generous to Russia. For its part, Russia also had concerns for the agreement demanding a “price floor,” below which it would not ship. The deal was renegotiated in March 1999 to address these and other outstanding issues

Based on mid-2005 market prices, USEC estimates it will pay Russia nearly $8 billion for the SWU's of the low-enriched-uranium.

See also

  • Nuclear power
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Megatons_to_Megawatts_Program". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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