Uranium fuel from 20,000 disarmed Russian warheads is generating about half of US nuclear power in a spinoff from a landmark disarmament accord, a top US official said on Wednesday.
However, the deal under which 500 tonnes of Russian weapons-grade uranium has been used to light and heat US homes will end next month because Russia believes its former Cold War rival has been getting energy on the cheap.
Acting US Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller told a UN committee the 1993 accord was a disarmament success.
Arms control experts call it the “megatonnes-to-megawatts” deal and hail the accord as a little known, but important example of the US and Russia pressing disarmament.
Gottemoeller called the Highly Enriched Uranium Purchase Accord a “significant non-proliferation accomplishment.”
Signed after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the deal was concluded as the two countries sought ways to get rid of warheads under their 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.
The weapons-level uranium is downgraded in Russia and the low-enriched product “is delivered to the United States, fabricated into nuclear fuel and used by nearly all US nuclear power plants to generate half of the nuclear energy in the United States,” Gottemoeller said.
“Approximately 20,000 nuclear warheads have been eliminated under this unique government-
industry partnership,” she said.
Over the past 15 years, the Russian uranium fuel has accounted for about 10 percent of all electricity produced in the US, she added.
The 500 tonnes of uranium traded is the equivalent of about 10 billion barrels of oil, experts said. A smaller amount of uranium from disarmed US weapons is also used to generate power.
US officials will go to St Petersburg next month to mark the loading of the final Russian containers which should arrive in the US in December, Gottemoeller said.
“We look forward to celebrating this historic achievement,” she said.
The US tried to extend the accord, but Russia refused, saying the price was too low, diplomats said.
The US has paid about US$8 billion for the uranium already supplied, said the US Enrichment Corp (USEC), the US government firm set up to provide uranium fuel to US power producers.
“The Russians told us several years ago that they would not be extending the contract,” USEC spokesman Jeremy Derryberry said.
USEC and Russian concern Technsabexport, which provides the uranium, have signed a new deal under which the fuel will now be sold under a contract “based on market prices,” Derryberry added.