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Say 'Do Svidaniya' to the Program That Turned Soviet Nukes Into American Electricity

Enemies can become cheap uranium suppliers.

by Ben Richmond
Dec 11 2013, 10:40pm


For the last 20 years, the United States and Russia have been beating swords into ploughshares by turning old Soviet-built nuclear warheads into American electricity. Ten percent of all the electricity that the US consumed over this time was once refined for weapons that Americans were taught to (likely fruitlessly) duck and cover from.

In 1993, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, a deal was struck by Philip Sewell, then of the US Department of Energy, with the Russian government. The Americans would pay the Russians for their weapons-grade uranium, which at the time wasn’t too difficult and expensive for the emerging new nation to properly store and protect.

Sewell told NPR that the facility where the uranium was being stored scared him. “Windows were broken, gates were not locked, and there were very few people around," he said. It seemed like anyone could walk away with the stuff needed to make a bomb.

So Sewell negotiated a win-win: the cash-strapped Russian nuclear program got $17 billion and American nuclear facilities got a deal on 500 tons—20,000 bombs worth—of uranium. The last shipment on the expiring deal arrived in Baltimore Tuesday and was put into a Kentucky storage facility today where it will be sold off to power plants over the next few years.

At times, 45 percent of fuel in America’s reactors came from decommissioned Russian bombs—and as much as five percent was coming from America’s decommissioned bombs. Over the course of the program that added up to seven trillion killowatt hours, used to power our capitalist pig doggery.

A new deal has been worked out between the company that Sewell spun off from his job at the energy department, the United States Enrichment Corporation, and Russia’s Techsnabexport that will send uranium to the US at market prices. “Times change, and so does the price," one UN diplomat told Phys.Org.

This means that uranium will be more expensive in the future, but the so-called "Megatons to Megawatts" program also stands as an example of how the past can be overcome.