On 4 December 2013 the last HEU spent fuel has been removed from the Low Flux Reactor site at Petten, the Netherlands. The fuel was removed to the Central Organization for Radioactive Waste (Covra) facility in the Zeeland region of the Netherlands. The LFR reactor was shut down in December 2010 and is currently being dismantled.
A recently completed Department of Defense's Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation has suggested that the cost of Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) could be between $10 and $12 billion, and under a worst case scenario that involves funding constraints and technical issues that would stretch out construction of the project, it could cost up to $19 billion. This is significantly higher than the current estimate of $6.5 billion.
U.S. National Nuclear Security Agency submitted a request XSNM3729/01 to amend the HEU export license XSNM3729 issued by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on 5 March 2013 to increase the amount of HEU covered by license and to allow target irradiation in Czech Republic and Poland.
The original license, XSNM3729, authorized export of "5.8 kg of U-235 contained in maximum of 6.2 kg of uranium" to be shipped for use in Mo-99 production at the Institute for Radioelements (IRE) in Belgium. The targets were to be manufactured by CERCA Areva and target irradiation to be performed in the following reactors: BR2 in Belgium, HFR Petten in the Netherlands, OSIRIS in France. (Note that the terms of this license are identical to the terms of the license XSNM3622/01, issued on 6 September 2012.)
The new request, XSNM3729/01, will amend the original license to add 6.815 kg of U-235 in 7.3 kg of uranium (maximum enrichment 93.35%) and include LVR-15 reactor in the Czech Republic and Maria reactor in Poland to the list of reactors that will irradiate the targets. (It is worth noting that the LVR-15 reactor was included in the license request filed in May 2012, but the reactor was not included in the license XSNM3622/01 that was issued as a result of that request.)
Also, on 20 November 2013, NRC issued an amendment to another license that authorizes NNSA to ship HEU to Europe. The original license, XSNM3730, was issued on 5 March 2013. It allowed export of 9.4 kg of U-235 contained in 10.1 kg uranium enriched to 93.35% for use in Mo-99 production at the Covidien facility in Petten, the Netherlands. Target were to be fabricated at CERCA Areva and irradiated in the BR2 and HFR Petten reactors. That material was shipped to Europe in Spring 2013 (according to the amendment application). The amended license, XSNM3730/01, adds 7.7 kg of U-235 in 8.3 kg of uranium and adds Maria reactor in Poland to the list of reactors that will irradiate the targets. Also the license reflects the name change - Covidien is now listed as Mallinckrodt Molybdenum Production Facility.
On 14 November 2013 Russia has shipped the last batch of low-enriched uranium under the U.S.-Russian HEU-LEU program (also known as "Megatons to Megawatts"). An official ceremony took place in St. Petersburg, where the containers were loaded on a transport ship. The cargo will be delivered to Baltimore and then to USEC's Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Kentucky, where the uranium will be used to manufacture fuel for U.S. nuclear power plants.
The HEU-LEU deal, 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, was signed in 1993. Under the agreement, first suggested in 1991 by Thomas Neff, Russia has blended down 500 tonnes of HEU from its weapons - an equivalent of about 20,000 weapons. The agreement included a series of transparency measures that allowed the United States and Russia to monitor implementation of the agreement. The first shipment of LEU took place in 1995 (see the detailed timeline of the program at USEC site).
UPDATE 12/10/2013: The shipment arrived in Baltimore on 10 December 2013.
The Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University is looking for candidates to fill one or more Postdoctoral Research Associate positions, with a background in physics, engineering, or other relevant fields to conduct technical and policy research on issues relating to nuclear arms control and disarmament, nonproliferation, the prevention of nuclear terrorism, or issues of verification, nuclear energy or cyber-security directly relevant to these topics. A recent Ph.D. is required. Appointments are for a 12-month term, starting in September 2014. See full announcement is at the Program web site.
The U.S. Department of Energy announced today that it completed removal of all highly-enriched uranium from Hungary. The operation was a cooperative project that also involved Hungary, Russia, and IAEA. According to NNSA, "The final 49.2 kilograms of remaining HEU in Hungary were removed over a series of three secure air shipments during the past six weeks and transported to Russia." In addition, NNSA reports that 190 kg of HEU was removed from Hungary in three earlier shipments - in 2008, 2009, and 2012.
The material removed from Hungary was HEU in fresh and spent fuel of the Budapest Research Reactor at Hungary's KFKI Atomic Energy Research Institute, also known as VVR-SZM. The reactor used HEU fuel with 36% enrichment, but it was converted to LEU in 2009. According to the Russian company Sosny, the 2008 shipment included 154.5 kg of HEU in spent fuel (other source says it was 130.26 kg HEU with 26.50 kg U-235, original enrichment of the fuel 36% U-235, as well as about 100 kg of LEU spent fuel). The 2009 shipment reportedly included 18 kg of HEU (most likely in fresh fuel). The 2012 shipment was described as "ZR-4" fresh fuel - probably fuel elements of the zero power reactor critical assembly. According to IAEA, the 2009 and 2012 shipments transferred 35.4 kg of fresh HEU fuel. The 2013 shipment included spent fuel that was sent to RT-1 reprocessing facility at the Mayak Plant.
As a result of the operation, Hungary became the 27th country to completely remove all its HEU.
In October 2013 Areva's MELOX fuel fabrication facility began production of MOX fuel for the Borssele power plant in the Netherlands. The plant is operated by the Dutch utility EPZ. According to Areva, its La Hague plant reprocessed about 375 tonnes of spent fuel that belongs to EPZ.
International Panel on Fissile Materials has released Global Fissile Material Report 2013: Increasing Transparency of Nuclear Warhead and Fissile Material Stocks as a Step toward Disarmament (PDF). This is the seventh Global Fissile Material Report. The focus of this report is increasing transparency of nuclear warhead and fissile material stockpiles. Under the terms of the 2010 "Action Plan on Nuclear Disarmament," the NPT nuclear weapon states agreed to cooperate on steps to increase transparency and develop verification capabilities related to nuclear disarmament and in particular to report information that can further openness and verification. The nuclear weapon states are expected to report to the NPT Preparatory Committee in 2014 on progress towards meeting these obligations.
The report begins with an overview of current nuclear weapon stocks and of national holdings of fissile materials and then lays out a set of options for a series of increasingly detailed public declarations by nuclear weapon states of their nuclear warhead inventories, and of their production and disposition of highly enriched uranium and separated plutonium, the fissile materials that are essential in nuclear weapons. It also suggests new cooperative projects that could assist in the eventual verification of such declarations. The declarations proposed in this report could fulfill some of the nuclear weapon state obligations under the "Action Plan on Nuclear Disarmament" and would provide essential background information required for the negotiation and verification of deep reductions in nuclear arsenals and for the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons. Contributors include Randy Rydell, Hans Kristensen, Robert S. Norris, Peter Dessaules, Fred McGoldrick, and James Fuller.
The report was formally launched on 22 October 2013 at the United Nations at an event sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Japan (the slides for the event).
Guest contribution by Tom Clements, Southeastern Nuclear Campaign Coordinator, Friends of the Earth, Columbia, South Carolina, email@example.com
The U.S. Department of Energy's Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina is the department's storage site for surplus weapon-grade plutonium that was never fabricated into the spherical "pit" used in nuclear weapons. SRS has now accumulated approximately 13 tonnes of plutonium, stored in one of the closed reactors earlier used to produce plutonium and tritium for nuclear weapons.
A key factor in determining a plutonium disposition option for both the SRS plutonium and also for pits being removed from retired nuclear weapons is the cost to prepare and dispose of the plutonium. A document recently obtained from DOE under the Freedom of information Act (FOIA) shows that preparation of plutonium at SRS for disposal in DOE's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico is about $100,000/kg. This appears to be far below the cost of processing plutonium into mixed plutonium uranium oxide fuel (MOX). Already, some non-MOXable plutonium stored at SRS has been packaged for disposal in WIPP and DOE has stated that "the WIPP Alternative, provide[s] protection from theft, diversion, or future reuse in nuclear weapons akin to that afforded by the Spent Fuel Standard [radiation barrier]."
In April 2013, DOE announced that it was conducting an "assessment" of plutonium disposition options due to massive cost increases and scheduling delays associated with the construction of a facility at SRS to make MOX from surplus plutonium. According to DOE budget figures, the cost of the MOX plant, designed by AREVA, has jumped from $1.8 billion in 2004 to $4.8 billion in 2008 to the current estimate of $7.7 billion and estimated annual operating costs of the MOX plant have soared to an estimated $543 million/year. Preparation as MOX fuel of 34 tonnes of surplus U.S. plutonium, the amount covered in the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement with Russia, which can be changed by mutual agreement of the parties, will greatly exceed the cost of preparation for disposal in WIPP.
Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz appointed a senior adviser to conduct the plutonium disposition assessment and it is believed that three options are on the table: continued pursuit of MOX fuel, immobilization in existing high-level nuclear waste at SRS and disposal of plutonium as transuranic waste in WIPP. An announcement about the selected option could come soon or be postponed until after the budget for Fiscal Year 2015 becomes clear.
While it is unknown when a final decision will be made, the DOE's schedule of key environmental documents reveals that the release of a final Environmental Impact Statement on plutonium disposal options has again been postponed and is "under department review." The contract for preparation of that EIS, which had been set to be released in October 2012, was recently changed, indicating that a policy decision based on the EIS might not be made until April 2014.