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U.S. Uranium Down-blending Activities: Fact Sheet

March 23, 2012

The permanent disposition of Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) permanently reduces nuclear security vulnerabilities. In 1996, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced plans to reduce stockpiles of surplus HEU by down-blending, or converting, it to low-enriched uranium (LEU).

U.S. HEU Downblending

The U.S. Surplus Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) Disposition Program is making progress in disposing of surplus HEU. The program has already committed 146 metric tons (MT) of the 183 MT of HEU for which it is responsible to various down-blending projects, and has eliminated approximately 127 MT of weapons-usable HEU by down-blending it to low-enriched uranium (LEU) for use in power and research reactors in the United States  and abroad. Another 11 MT of HEU has been shipped to the down-blender for processing. The program has reduced holdings of fissile materials throughout the DOE/NNSA complex substantially, rid the world of approximately 2,900 weapons worth of unneeded bomb material, helped reduce civil use of HEU worldwide by providing replacement LEU fuel for research reactors that previously used HEU fuel, and made a significant contribution to electricity supplies. The program is moving forward with plans for the remaining 37 MT of HEU that is currently unallocated to any project and also Global Threat Reduction Initiative materials that are suitable for down-blending.

HISTORY: U.S.-Russia HEU Purchase Agreement

In 1993, the United States and the Russian Federation signed the Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) Purchase Agreement to provide for the safe and mutually beneficial disposition of 500 metric tons (MT) of surplus HEU from dismantled nuclear weapons. The U.S. Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA) provides confidence that the nonproliferation objectives of the Agreement are fulfilled by verifying that the HEU processed under the Agreement is extracted from dismantled Soviet-era nuclear warheads, and that the same HEU is then converted and down-blended into low enriched uranium (LEU). The resultant LEU is shipped to the United States where it is fabricated into nuclear fuel. Nuclear fuel from Russian weapons is used in commercial power reactors and generates approximately 10 percent of all U.S. electrical power consumed annually.

DOE/NNSA’s HEU Transparency Program ensures that the terms of the Agreement are fulfilled using a three-pronged approach:

(1) 24 annual monitoring visits—6 to each of the 4 Russian nuclear facilities subject to the Agreement;

(2) Review and analysis of Russian nuclear materials processing and accounting forms; and

(3) Use of data from U.S. monitoring equipment permanently placed in Russian facilities.

As of March 1, 2012, the United States will have monitored the elimination of 442 MT of Russian weapons-origin HEU, the equivalent of approximately 17,680 nuclear warheads. When the Agreement concludes in late 2013, 500 metric tons of HEU will be converted to LEU—the equivalent of approximately 20,000 nuclear warheads. 

BACKGROUND: U.S.-Russia Material Consolidation and Conversion Project

Since 1999, DOE/NNSA’s Material Consolidation and Conversion (MCC) Project has supported the Russian Federation’s efforts to convert excess HEU (not from weapons) to LEU. Down-blending sites in Russia obtain excess HEU from other nuclear sites and convert it to LEU. Russian-origin fresh HEU that is returned from other countries under DOE/NNSA’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) is typically sent to these down-blending sites and converted to LEU. To date, the MCC Project has supported the conversion of more than 14 MT of HEU.