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Highly Enriched Uranium Transparency Program

November 13, 2013

The U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) Transparency Program reduces nuclear risk by monitoring the conversion of 500 metric tons (MT) of Russian HEU, enough material for 20,000 nuclear weapons, into low enriched uranium (LEU). This LEU is put into peaceful use in the United States, generating nearly 10% of all U.S. electrical power.

The HEU Purchase Agreement: Strengthening Nuclear Security

In 1993, the United States and the Russian Federation signed the HEU Purchase Agreement to provide for the safe and mutually beneficial disposition of 500 MT of surplus Russian HEU from dismantled nuclear weapons. The HEU Transparency Program’s mission is to provide confidence that the nonproliferation objectives of the Agreement are fulfilled by ensuring that all LEU delivered to the United States from Russia under the Agreement was derived by downblending weapons-origin HEU.

The Agreement is formally known as the Agreement between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Russian Federation Concerning the Disposition of Highly Enriched Uranium Extracted from Nuclear Weapons, and is popularly known as “Megatons to Megawatts.”

The Agreement directly supports President Obama’s goal of securing or eliminating weapons-usable nuclear materials worldwide. Since 1995, the Program has successfully reduced the dual risks of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism by confirming the elimination of large stocks of excess materials from nuclear weapons. The 500 MT HEU transparently eliminated under the Agreement is substantially greater than the planned total of all other major worldwide fissile material reduction initiatives combined.

The HEU Transparency Program translates nuclear arms reductions into strengthened nuclear material security, as materials from Russian nuclear weapons dismantled under bilateral arms control agreements are transparently and permanently eliminated rather than stockpiled.

Reciprocal Transparency is a Cornerstone of the Agreement

Russia and the United States have established a strong technical partnership for transparent implementation of the HEU Purchase Agreement. Reciprocal monitoring activities are designed to maximize transparency while minimizing impact on facility operations, ensuring efficient realization of both the commercial and nonproliferation objectives of the Agreement.

In October 2013, NNSA’s HEU Transparency Program completed monitoring activities in Russian facilities that process HEU subject to the Agreement. Previously, the Program performed 24 special monitoring visits (SMVs) every year, six to each of the four Russian nuclear facilities that process HEU under the Agreement.

During SMVs, U.S. technical experts observed Russian uranium processing firsthand and obtained both Russian HEU processing documentation and measurement data from U.S.-designed monitoring equipment. U.S. monitors conducted SMVs to the Siberian Chemical Enterprise in Seversk, the Mayak Production Association in Ozersk, the Ural Electrochemical Integrated Plant (UEIP) in Novouralsk, and the Electrochemical Plant in Zelenogorsk.

To ensure that LEU derived from Russian HEU is used exclusively for peaceful purposes in the U.S., Russia exercises reciprocal transparency rights under the Agreement. The NNSA facilitates these Russian monitoring activities at U.S. facilities.

Russian experts perform SMVs to USEC’s Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Kentucky, where containers of weapons-origin LEU are received and stored. In addition, Russian monitors visit three U.S. nuclear fuel fabrication facilities that incorporate Russian-origin LEU into fuel for commercial nuclear reactors. These facilities are Global Nuclear Fuels-Americas in North Carolina, Areva-Richland in Washington, and Westinghouse in South Carolina.

The Program also provides the Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency with monthly declarations related to Russian weapons-origin LEU activity in the United States.

Commercial Implementation

The Agreement is implemented through an innovative government-industry partnership, with the United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC) and Techsnabexport (Tenex) as the respective U.S. and Russian executive agents for the Agreement’s commercial implementation.

USEC reimburses Tenex for the LEU’s two constituent components: natural uranium and the enrichment services—called separative work—required to enrich natural uranium. USEC pays Tenex for the separative work component and transfers title of an equal amount of natural uranium to Tenex. Tenex resells a portion of the natural uranium to Areva, Cameco, and NUKEM (the Western Companies) under the terms of the 1999 Feed Agreement. In addition to revenue, downblending HEU under the Purchase Agreement provided a source of stable employment for hundreds of Russian nuclear scientists, engineers and technicians with specialized HEU processing expertise.

 After HEU is converted into LEU in Russia and delivered to USEC at the Port of Saint Petersburg, it is shipped to the U.S. and fabricated into fuel for civilian nuclear power reactors. About one-half of electricity from all U.S. civilian nuclear power reactors today is generated by uranium from dismantled Russian nuclear weapons.

During its 20 years of monitoring in Russia, the HEU Transparency Program also:

  • Conducted 385 visits to Russian HEU processing facilities and from 1996 to 2012 maintained a U.S. monitoring office at UEIP, providing an up to year-round U.S. monitoring presence at Russia’s largest HEU downblending facility.
  • Developed a Blend Down Monitoring System (BDMS) to confirm Russian declarations by providing continuous, unattended measurements of the HEU downblending process at each Russian HEU blending facility.
  • Developed and deployed at each Russian facility portable non-destructive assay (NDA) equipment to measure the enrichment of HEU in sealed containers. From 1997 to 2013, HEU Transparency Program monitors performed over 41,000 NDA confirmatory measurements of HEU in Russian facilities.
  • Eliminated the HEU equivalent of approximately three nuclear weapons each day under the HEU Purchase Agreement.

Broader Efforts

Today’s announcement is part of the Department’s broader nonproliferation efforts through its National Nuclear Security Administration. For example, the Department recently announced that under a multi-year international effort coordinated between Hungary, the United States, the Russian Federation, and the International Atomic Energy Agency, all remaining HEU had been successfully removed from Hungary. This makes Hungary the twelfth country to completely eliminate HEU from its borders since President Obama’s 2009 announcement of an international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world. To date, the Department has removed or dispositioned more than 5,000 kilograms of HEU and plutonium from more than 40 countries around the world and has removed all HEU from 25 countries.