US nuclear power industry could face fuel shortage
Russia has been supplying US nuclear power plants with fuel for a dumping price since 1995. But with the HEU-LEU agreement coming to an end, America’s nuclear power generation industry is likely to face a sharp fuel price surge and shortage.
The HEU-LEU agreement (Megatons to Megawatts Program) signed in 1993 supposed downblending of 500 tons of Soviet-made military grade highly enriched uranium (HEU) (equivalent to 20,000 nuclear warheads) into low-enriched uranium (LEU) to produce fuel for American nuclear power plants out of it.
The program supplied up to 40 percent of nuclear fuel for America’s 104 nuclear reactors (America’s 65 nuclear power plants generate over 19 percent of electric power in the country) and appeared to be extremely profitable. For example in 1993-2009, Russia raised a mere $8.8 billion by selling hundreds of tons of highly-enriched uranium (HEU), allegedly at a fixed price lower than enriched uranium production costs at the time.
Still, Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom has put the money ($12 billion for the HEU-LEU agreement in total) to good use, investing in fundamental research and infrastructure, in particular into innovative uranium enrichment technology and fuel assembly fabrication.
Today Rosatom possesses cutting edge gaseous centrifuge enrichment industry concentrated at four facilities in Siberia and the Urals, making up to 40 percent of the world enrichment capacities.
The HEU-LEU agreement is due to end in November 2013 with the final contracted tons of nuclear fuel delivered to the American customer, United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC).
The US has the highest number of commercial nuclear power plants and is the biggest consumer of nuclear fuel in the world. To meet the high internal consumption the US government has not only been buying uranium fuel from Russia, but also has been converting its own nuclear warheads into power plant fuel.