U.S. winds up program to buy Russian nuclear uranium for fuel

Dec. 10, 2013 at 9:45 PM
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 10 (UPI) -- A 20-year program to convert uranium from the former Soviet nuclear arsenal to fuel for U.S. power plants has finished its work, officials say.

Caitlyn Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said for the past 15 years fuel supplied by the program has generated 10 percent of all U.S. electrical power. The program began in 1993, a few years after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

"Today the United States and Russia are commemorating the completion of one of the most successful non-proliferation programs in our history," she said. "With this week's off-loading at the Port of Baltimore, Maryland, of the last delivery of low-enriched uranium derived from 500 metric tons of highly enriched uranium, our countries have seen to fruition the implementation of the 1993 U.S.-Russia Highly Enriched Uranium Purchase Agreement."

Thomas Neff, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor, told the Chicago Tribune that he convinced Viktor Mikhailovich, the head of the Russian nuclear weapons program in the early 1990s, that it could sell its weapons to the United States. Neff said he had been unable to convince anyone in the United States of the wisdom of the plan.

The program ensured the nuclear weapons would not fall into the wrong hands while keeping the system that built those weapons running for a while longer. Neff said he was concerned that the highly skilled men and women involved in production might end up working for the wrong people.

"The Soviet Union was just starting to fall apart, and the people in these secret cities in the weapons enterprise couldn't feed their kids," Neff said. "The people who could build them might be tempted to go off someplace else. My thought was, 'Let's try to get some money in there for them to sustain the system.'"

Critics say the program had a downside -- the United States ended up depending on Russia for enriched uranium.

"The United States is at risk of finding its nuclear weapons capability weakened by the absence of an available capability to produce low-enriched uranium for tritium production -- a key component in maintaining our nuclear arsenal," the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington said in November.

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