WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), USEC Inc. and BWX Technologies, Inc. (BWXT) announced that enough material for 800 nuclear weapons has been converted into commercial nuclear reactor fuel. This conversation produced enough fuel to power a typical commercial nuclear reactor for approximately 34 years, generating enough electricity for power every U.S. household for 81 days or meeting 22 percent of U.S. annual household electricity needs.
As a part of the NNSA's nuclear nonproliferation mission to reduce excess quantities of weapons-grade materials, approximately 50 metric tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU) was converted into nearly 660 metric tons of low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel. Conversion to LEU makes the material proliferation-proof because it cannot be used to make a nuclear weapon, and it also significantly reduces the storage and security costs of the material.
Known as the U.S. HEU Downblending Program, the U.S. Department of Energy first transferred the HEU to USEC for disposition in the commercial fuel market as a part of USEC's privatization from the U.S. government. USEC contracted with BWXT to downblend the surplus HEU with natural uranium at BWXT's facility in Lynchburg, VA. The conversion process began in 1999 with HEU shipments from DOE's Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant and NNSA's Y-12 National Security Complex managed by BWXT, where the material was securely stored. USEC sold the resulting commercial reactor-grade LEU fuel to its nuclear utility customers.
"This is a major accomplishment. We have successfully turned weapons material into something people can use to turn the lights on in their house. Reducing stockpiles of surplus weapons-usable material in the U.S. and around the world is critical to global security and a key part of NNSA's mission," said NNSA Administrator Linton F. Brooks.
"USEC is proud to partner with NNSA and BWXT and participate in this historic nonproliferation program. We've done our part to convert surplus weapons-grade highly enriched uranium into fuel our nuclear utility customers use to produce electricity. The U.S. HEU Downblending Program is similar to the U.S.-Russian Megatons to Megawatts program, which recycles uranium from Russian nuclear warheads into fuel USEC's nuclear utility customers use to generate 10 percent of America's electricity," said John K. Welch, USEC president and chief executive officer.
"Supporting our nation's nuclear nonproliferation efforts by committing BWXT's uranium processing capabilities to the U.S. HEU Downblending Program has given our company a sense of great pride. The successful completion of this endeavor paves the way for future HEU reduction and conversion efforts as the U.S. moves forward in its mission to achieve global security," said John A. Fees, president and chief operating officer of BWXT.
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 U.S. and abroad.
USEC Inc. (NYSE: USU), a global energy company, is a leading supplier of enriched uranium fuel for commercial nuclear power plants.
BWXT, a subsidiary of McDermott International, Inc. (NYSE: MDR), supplies nuclear operations services and products to the U.S. government and commercial clients. Headquartered in Lynchburg, Va., BWXT manages complex, high-consequence nuclear and national security production facilities and is a principal supplier of nuclear components and advanced energy products.
Julianne Smith, NNSA
Elizabeth Stuckle, USEC
Regina Carter, BWXT