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Megatons To Megawatts: Thirteen Percent Or Four Percent ?

Commodities / Nuclear Power Nov 18, 2010 - 11:04 AM GMT

By: Andrew_McKillop

Commodities

Best Financial Markets Analysis ArticlePresident Barack Obama has moved into high gear trying to prolong the US-Russian "Megatons to MegaWatts" program for turning mostly Russian nuclear warheads into reactor fuel. He has enlisted former top defense and foreign policy officials from past Democratic and Republican administrations, in a bid to push the Senate to ratify a stalled nuclear arms treaty with Russia.


James Baker, President George H.W. Bush’s secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, Gerald Ford, and Madeleine Albright, President Bill Clinton’s secretary of state are among former senior government figures scheduled to meet at the White House on November 18 to discuss the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and its impact on national security.

Not mentioned, the Megatons to MegaWatts program is a critical confidence-boosting support to civil nuclear power, by easing the growing supply shortage of uranium fuel.

US government Web sites, and pro-nuclear entities like the World Nuclear Association publish data claiming that current supplies of weapons grade uranium, from Russian warheads converted to reactor grade fuel, covered as much as 45 percent of the USA's total reactor fuel needs, and some 13 percent of world reactor fuel needs, in year 2009.

This gives very clear target amounts needed, using world civil reactor fuel needs estimated by industry specialists such as UxC at about 65 000 - 68 000 tonnes (metric tons) in 2010.

THE BACKGROUND

Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed their new nuclear arms limiting accord in April. When the two leaders met at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum on November 14, President Obama announced that his single most important “top priority” was winning US Senate ratification this year.

In December 2009 the US Enrichment Corp (USEC) announced that the Megatons to Megawatts program had reached a new milestone: 375 metric tons of Russian HEU (Highly Enriched Uranium) warhead material, equivalent to 15,000 nuclear warheads had been eliminated since the start of the program, over the period 1993-2009, and converted to LEU (Low Enriched Uranium) suited to operating the USA's civil nuclear power reactors.

For a total of 15 000 warheads using 375 000 kilograms HEU, this gives an average of approx 25 kilograms of HEU per warhead, which is reasonable but is now relatively high, due to the "downsizing" of nuclear warheads, with present generation, smaller sized nuclear ordnance needing as little as 7 - 10 kilograms per unit, and sometimes less than that.

HOW MUCH FUEL IS SAVED BY THE PROGRAM ?

Obama's attempts to extend the Megatons to MegaWatts program beyond 2013 are motivated by a simple problem. If the program is terminated, this will deprive the USA of a significant amount of fuel, if not the claimed amount of around 8 000 tons of reactor fuel equivalent in 2009 or about 45 percent of the USA's civil reactor fuel needs, which is the favoured figure published in official claims, for year 2009.

If we took this claim at face value, the program is saving (or in official jargon "displacing") as much as 8 000 tons of mined uranium per year, therefore stopping the program, or not renewing it will aggravate global supply shortage of uranium at a time when world reactor building is increasing fast. Uranium prices could or might "spike" to very high levels, if confidence on non-mine reactor fuel supply erodes.

Current world uranium mine output is about 20 percent less (15 000 tons less) than world reactor fuel needs in year 2010, using industry estimates. Expanding uranium mine output is relatively slow and is often high cost: extreme volatility of world uranium prices, for which no open market exists, and low uranium prices most years, contribute to very slow movement in new mine development and existing mine expansion.

Presently, the U.S.-Russian agreement and its commercial implementing contracts will stop in 2013. At that time it is expected that a total of 500 metric tons of warhead HEU will have been converted in Russia and the USA to LEU, and purchased for U.S. nuclear power plants. The Megatons to Megawatts program will by then have eliminated the equivalent of 20,000 nuclear warheads, according to published claims, leaving about another 18 000 to 20 000 remaining declared warheads in the combined US and Russian arsenal.

The total amount of uranium reactor fuel economized, substituted or (in official jargon) "displaced" can be calculated from the USEC and other sources including the WNA and the OECD's NEA which give an equivalent of close to: 28.95 t LEU = 1 t HEU

The USEC, for example uses the equivalence of 403 tonnes of HEU being equivalent to 11 648 tonnes of reactor grade LEU.

For a total of 500 tonnes of HEU converted to LEU through 1993-2013 the total LEU equivalent on this conversion base is at most 14 500 tonnes. The claimed amount of LEU displaced by US purchases of Russian converted HEU in the single year 2009 is however stated as about 8 000 tons, with the question of data given in "tons" and sometimes in "metric tons" or "tonnes" not being critical because the amounts are very similar: 1 US short ton = 907.2 kilograms.

Official sources such as the USEC, the US EIA, the WNA, the OECD's NEA and UN IAEA all give similar but not identical data on equivalences and amounts of Russian warhead HEU converted since 1993, and to be converted up to 2013.

Some estimates and forecasts indicate overall HEU supply through 1993-2009 as 375 t of HEU, plus another 125 t available in the period 2010-2013, for a total of 500 t HEU through 1993-2013.

This agrees with USEC claims that about 500 t of HEU equivalent to 20 000 warheads will be recycled through 1993-2013.

In the United States, there are 103 nuclear power reactors currently operating. New construction and operating permits for 15 nuclear power reactors are under review by the U.S. NRC.

By Andrew McKillop

gsoassociates.com

Project Director, GSO Consulting Associates

Former chief policy analyst, Division A Policy, DG XVII Energy, European Commission. Andrew McKillop Biographic Highlights

Andrew McKillop has more than 30 years experience in the energy, economic and finance domains. Trained at London UK’s University College, he has had specially long experience of energy policy, project administration and the development and financing of alternate energy. This included his role of in-house Expert on Policy and Programming at the DG XVII-Energy of the European Commission, Director of Information of the OAPEC technology transfer subsidiary, AREC and researcher for UN agencies including the ILO.

Contact: xtran9@gmail.com

© 2010 Copyright Andrew McKillop - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisors.


© 2005-2019 http://www.MarketOracle.co.uk - The Market Oracle is a FREE Daily Financial Markets Analysis & Forecasting online publication.


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