Soviet bomb fuel has provided electricity to US homes for 15 years

WASHINGTON — About 10 per cent of electrical power consumed in the United States for more than a dozen years came from nuclear fuel once installed in Soviet nuclear warheads.

Russia and the United States on Tuesday completed the "Megatons-to-Megawatts" programme that has converted 500 metric tons of weapons-grade uranium from the former Soviet Union into electric power across America.

Russia made the final uranium delivery this week to Baltimore, Md., in an event marked in a harbourside ceremony and toasted later Tuesday at the Russian embassy in nearby Washington.

The programme supplied nearly 10 per cent of all US electricity over the last 15 years, according to Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the National Security Council in the White House.

"The United States and Russia remain strongly committed to building on this success and will continue to collaborate across various fields of nonproliferation, nuclear security and nuclear research and development," Hayden said.

In all, the US nuclear power industry has purchased about 8 billion dollars of reprocessed uranium from Russia, according to USEC, the company that handled the imports. About half of all nuclear fuel used by the domestic power industry for the last 15 years came from Soviet warheads.

The aim of the programme was to help post-Soviet Russia divest itself of highly enriched uranium from about 20,000 warheads, USEC said, while giving legitimate employment to former Soviet nuclear specialists who might otherwise have been lured into illegal pursuits.

All of the "downblending" of the 500 metric tons of highly enriched uranium into low-enriched uranium was done in Russia.

The complex process involved removal of the fuel from strategic and tactical nuclear missiles and shredding it, so it could be chemically treated and diluted to a level "too low to be of any military value," USEC said Tuesday.

The process produced 14,000 metric tons of low-enriched uranium over 15 years, USEC said.

Referring to the 1993 Russia-US agreement that set up the deal, USEC president John Welch said: "Over the past two decades, our commercial business operations have greatly advanced the strategic policy goals of our national governments, benefiting all mankind with a safer, cleaner world."

USEC said it will continue buying uranium from its Russian counterpart, TENEX, until at least 2022. But under the new contract, the fuel will come from Russia's commercial enrichment activities rather than Russian weapons.

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