So Long Russia, and Thanks for All the Uranium

So Long Russia, and Thanks for All the Uranium

(The title is a takeoff from the title of the fourth book in the trilogy of Douglas Adam’s “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” reading “So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish”.)

I was going to compare the Uranium One US uranium mined in the US, to the uranium that Russia supplied the US in the Megatons to Megawatts program. However, Russian President Putin beat me to it at the international meeting with journalists in Sochi.

The Megatons to Megawatts program was an amazing disarmament program from 1993 to 2013 in which Russia diluted 500 tonnes of highly enriched uranium, from about 20,000 Russian nuclear warheads (about 90% U235) and called Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU), to the 5% or less enriched (Low-enriched Uranium or LEU) typically used in a nuclear reactor. It made 15,000 tonnes of LEU. This was part of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). It provided about half of US reactor uranium, and was used by almost all US power plants over 20 years. Over the 20 years, it accounted for 7 trillion kWh (kiloWatt-hours). The US paid less than market price for this, about $17 billion. The uranium in old US nuclear weapons have also been converted to reactor fuel. Since nuclear power provides about 20% of US electricity, then 10% of our electricity was fueled by Russian weapons.

Let’s check the dilution. 500 tonnes at 90% gives 450 tonnes of pure U235 in a compound. A tonne of LEU has 0.05 tonnes of reactor fuel. Dividing 450 by .05 gives 9,000 tonnes of LEU, not agreeing exactly with the 15,000 tonnes of LEU cited. A mixup of tonnes to tons is only a 10% correction. We will work with the 15,000 tonnes.

We compare this to the current world uranium output of about 60,000 tons. But ordinary uranium only has 0.7% U235, and enriching it to 5% requires an enrichment ratio of 5/0.7 = 7.14. So the yearly 60,000 tons will produce about a seventh of that of LEU, or 8,400 tons of LEU. Now, I have to convert this to tonnes, by multiplying by 0.9, to get 7,560 tonnes, rounded off. So the Russian conversion plan was worth about two years of world uranium production.

We now compare this to the Uranium One scandal, with their production in 2016 of 23 tons of ordinary uranium with 0.7% U235 or 2.9 tonnes of LEU.

So the entire alt-right establishment is worried about Uranium One’s mining of 2.9 tonnes of LEU worth, without mentioning the 15,000 tonnes of LEU that Russia has sold us from their nuclear weapons over the last two decades. That is a ratio of 2.9/15,000 = 1/5200, i.e. One part in 5,200. Give us a break!

Russia had been building gas centrifuge plants for uranium enhancement, and now processes about 40% of the world’s reactor fuel.

The articles describing this program were from, the Russia’s English language newspaper (propaganda), and Wikipedia. I think if anyone had told Trump about this program, he wouldn’t think that the Uranium One sale was such a big deal. It also shows Trump that other Presidents, George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, have successfully collaborated with Russia on important peaceful missions.

About Dennis SILVERMAN

I am a retired Professor of Physics and Astronomy at U C Irvine. For a decade I have been active in learning about energy and the environment, and in lecturing and attending classes at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at UC Irvine.
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