Russia completes Megatons to Megawatts work

29 August 2013

The final shipment of low-enriched uranium (LEU) from TVEL's JSC Electrochemical Plant (ECP) marks the completion of Russia's commitments under the Megatons to Megawatts program. The US-Russian agreement to downblend weapons-grade uranium will expire later this year.

Last LEU shipment (ECP) 460
The final canisters of LEU leave the ECP plant (Image: ECP)

In 1993, the US and Russian governments signed an agreement for the purchase over a 20-year period of 500 tonnes of Russian 'surplus' high-enriched uranium (HEU) from nuclear disarmament and military stockpiles. These were to be bought by the USA for use as fuel in civil nuclear reactors. Under the deal, the USA transferred to Russia a similar quantity of natural uranium to that used to downblend the HEU.

The ECP plant

The plant in Zelenogorsk in Russia's Krasnoyarsk Region was one of four enrichment plants contracted by Tenex to downblend the HEU. It has processed about one-third of the total HEU downblended under a contract signed with Tenex in 1996. ECP has also undertaken the re-enrichment of tails for the downblending, using about half of its capacity.

Known as the HEU Agreement, and sometimes referred to as the 'Megatons to Megawatts' program, it was implemented through a 1994 contract between the US Enrichment Corporation and Techsnabexport (Tenex), which acted as executive agents for the US and Russian governments. After the HEU Agreement was signed the US Enrichment Corporation was later privatized, becoming USEC Inc. Since 2000 the program has been under the US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

Since the agreement was signed, 500 tonnes of Russian weapons-grade HEU - equivalent to 20,000 warheads - have now been downblended into 15,259 tonnes of LEU.

On 21 August, the final shipment of LEU under this program left the ECP plant by rail on route to St Petersburg. From here it will be shipped to the USA.

Since 1996, US experts have visited the ECP plant some 94 times. A US delegation was present at the plant to witness the final shipment of LEU. They will make their last visit to the plant in October to mark the end of the Megatons to Megawatts program, which has provided about 10% of US electricity over the past two decades.

Tenex has estimated that by the time the Megatons to Megawatts program expires by the end of 2013, it would have brought in total revenues of some $13 billion to Russia's federal budget, Interfax reported.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News