For the past 20 years the United States and its former adversary Russia have been working together in an arrangement called the "Megatons to Megawatts" Program. The program has Russia dismantling its stockpile of nuclear warheads, processing the uranium, and selling the finished product to the U.S. for use in our nuclear reactors. The program has proven beneficial for both countries, providing revenue for Russia and materials for the United States. The agreement will expire at the end of this year. The chart below shows the amount of uranium enrichment services used to support U.S.nuclear power plants. It compares the amount enriched by Russia, internal U.S. sources, and other foreign sources.
Transitional Supply Contract
The expiring Megatons to Megawatts Program will be replaced with a new contract whereby Russia will sell commercially produced uranium to the U.S. through 2022. The Megatons to Megawatts Program was a diplomatic way to open business between the two countries. It was put in place by the respective governments and has been managed by the United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC) and the Russian company TENEX. The new Transitional Supply Contract is a means to prolong that cooperation and gives reassurance that we will not suddenly lose a source of nuclear fuel.
Under the new contract the United States would send Russia uranium to be enriched and purchase the finished product to support our fleet of commercial nuclear power plants. This uranium would replace part of what of what was previously produced from warheads. Purchases of the new uranium will start small and reach half the current purchase amount by 2015. The contract gives us the option to double that amount and purchase as much as we did under the Megatons to Megawatts Program.
U.S. Uranium Enrichment Capabilities
Our ability to enrich uranium in the U.S. has declined with the shutdown of gaseous diffusion plants in Piketon, Ohio (2001) and Paducah, Kentucky (2013). To address this concern:
USEC and TENEX have discussed the idea of a uranium enrichment plant in the United States that would use Russian centrifuge enrichment technology. USEC is proposing to build the new plant at the site of the former Portsmouth Plant in Piketon, Ohio. This plant is still in the testing phases and has not yet secured the funding to continue;
The U.S. is currently host to a gaseous centrifuge plant, owned by the European corporation URENCO, in Eunice, New Mexico; and
European corporation, AREVA, has been granted a license to build a gaseous centrifuge plant in Idaho, but construction has not yet begun.
The planned enrichment facilities on U.S. soil will be vital if we are going to see a reemergence of nuclear power in our country. We currently have an aging fleet of 100 nuclear power plants. Many are reaching the end of their useful life and will need to be replaced within the next decade.