WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has successfully converted a research reactor at the University of Florida from the use of highly enriched uranium to low enriched uranium. This conversion comes on the heels of a reactor conversion at Texas A&M University that was announced last week. By the end of this year, NNSA will have converted six U.S. and international research reactors.
As a part of its nonproliferation mission, NNSA converts research reactors in the U.S. and around the world from operating on highly enriched uranium (HEU) to low enriched uranium (LEU) fuel. LEU is not suitable for use in a nuclear weapon and is not sought by terrorists or criminals. The conversion is part of the Bush administration's efforts to minimize the use of highly enriched uranium in civil applications around the world.
"Decreasing the use of highly enriched uranium in the United States and around the world is a priority for this administration," said Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman. "Converting this domestic reactor at University of Florida and the one last week at Texas A&M University further demonstrates our commitment to limiting the spread of nuclear material."
HEU is primarily used in research reactors to produce isotopes for medical applications, and early reactor technology used HEU fuel because it was more difficult to achieve comparable power levels using LEU. However, modern reactor designs can use newer high-density LEU fuels while maintaining comparable power levels, making conversion an attractive option for limiting the availability of HEU nuclear material.
"Reducing the use of highly enriched uranium around the world makes for good nonproliferation policy and international security. NNSA will continue working with our international partners and with domestic research institutions to convert reactors to low enriched uranium," said NNSA Administrator Linton F. Brooks.
NNSA worked closely with the Department of Energy's Office of Nuclear Energy, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the University of Florida to complete this reactor conversion. Senior officials from NNSA joined others in Gainesville today to commemorate the successful fuel conversion of the reactor.
Under the 2005 North American Security and Prosperity Partnership, the United States, Mexico, and Canada agreed to convert civil HEU reactors on the North American continent to LEU fuel by 2011, where such LEU fuel is available. The University of Florida research reactor is the second of six domestic research reactors the United States will convert. Mexico will convert its one research reactor in Mexico City, and Canada will convert three research reactors.
This reactor conversion also supports the 2005 Bratislava Joint Statement on Nuclear Security Cooperation issued by President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Under the statement, the United States and Russia agreed to work together to convert more than 30 U.S. and Russian-supplied research reactors around the world from the use of HEU to LEU.
The Global Threat Reduction Initiative's (GTRI) mission includes returning and securing nuclear fuel and radiological sources, protecting radiological and nuclear material and converting research reactors around the world. Currently, GTRI is working to convert 59 more reactors around the world from HEU to LEU by 2014.
Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability, and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; works to reduce global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the United States and abroad.
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