Well over four hundred tons of uranium have been converted from former Soviet Union nuclear warheads. Called “Megatons to Megawatts,” the program was started by USEC, a global energy company and leading supplier of nuclear fuel. It was planned to last twenty years and is a partnership between industry and government to convert 500 metric tons of Russian weapons-grade uranium to enriched uranium for use in making electricity in commercial reactors.
The overall goal of the program is converting about 20,000 nuclear warheads for fuel, and it is about ninety percent achieved, so approximately 18,000 warheads have been converted at this point. The sixteen thousand milestone was achieved in 2010. Twenty thousand conversions should be completed by the end of 2013.
The uranium produced so far by the Megatons to Megawatts program is equivalent to about 193 billion gallons of gasoline. Nuclear power plants using the uranium recovered from the warheads have produced up to ten percent of the electricity generated in the United States.
Some of the ICBMs containing the warheads were once aimed at the United States. Enriched uranium from weapons is replacing over 10,000 tons of uranium from mines annually and providing over ten percent of fuel for reactors worldwide. For many years, there has been a legitimate concern uranium from the commercial supply for fuel would wind up in weapons, but what has happened is the reverse. Much more uranium from weapons is being used for fuel to generate electricity. Furthermore, the amount of enriched uranium in weapons stockpiles is many times more than the annual world mine production of uranium.
Whether or not one is opposed to the use of nuclear power plants, at least this particular use of uranium from weapons appears to have a benefit to humankind due to the dismantling of many potentially devastating bombs. The project also is taking weapons-grade uranium offline so to speak and rendering it useless for war when it is converted into electricity.
USEC is the business acting on behalf of the U.S. government and JSC “Techsnabexport” (TENEX) does so for Russia.
The United States reportedly has also been converting some of its own war heads into fuel for nuclear power plants.
Image Credit: Public Domain, the image is not of Russian warheads, but is intended merely to be an example of a warhead.