Uranium: Megatons to Megawatts

nuclear explosion

The Megatons to Megawatts Program is the popular name given to the United States-Russia Highly Enriched Uranium Purchase Agreement dated in Feb 1993. Under this Agreement Russia agreed to supply the United States with low-enriched uranium (LEU), obtained from high-enriched uranium (HEU) present in excess of Russian warheads. The United States agreed to purchase the low-enriched uranium fuel. This historic project which concluded on December 31, 2013 is the largest and most successful nuclear non-proliferation program to date. The original proposal for this program was made by Thomas Neff, a physicist at MIT.

Natural uranium contains 0.71 percent of Uranium-235. Enriching uranium increases the amount of Uranium-235. The nuclear fuel used in the majority of reactors contains about 3 to 5 percent of Uranium-235. Enrichment to levels of 20 percent or greater produces highly enriched uranium which is used in research reactors and military applications.

Highly enriched uranium of warheads may be down-blended or diluted so that the amount of U is low enough to be suitable for commercial reactors. The Megatons to Megawatts program organised the down-blending of Russia’s surplus, highly enriched uranium commercially.

Uranium from 20,000 warheads fueled the US nuclear power reactors and provided 10 per cent of electricity produced in USA over the past 20 years.