The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Thursday, September 27, 2001

USEC reaches nuclear fuel milestone
The firm has converted the equivalent of 5,000 Russian nuclear warheads and is 40 percent ahead of its 20-year schedule.

By Joe Walker

USEC Inc. has reached a milestone of converting the equivalent of 5,000 Russian warheads into nuclear fuel in the seventh year of a $12 billion, 20-year disarmament program that has greater significance in light of recent acts of terrorism.

USEC Senior Vice President Phillip Sewell, speaking Wednesday at the eighth annual International Nuclear Policy Forum in Washington, D.C., said the terrorism has raised global concern about warhead safeguards and the importance of USEC's "megatons to megawatts" program.

Sewell said the events of Sept. 11 "signal an elevated new level of concern and urgency about nuclear materials management and the potential acquisition and use of these weapons materials by terrorist organizations."

There is "urgent need" for government approval to increase the amount of Russian material being converted to nuclear fuel, he said. The Bush administration is reviewing USEC's plan to remain sole agent of the uranium and get lower prices, a strategy opposed by the nation's nuclear power industry.

Pending federal approval, USEC can't place orders for 2002 delivery and Russian officials say they will delay or decrease shipments, Sewell said.

USEC, which has bought $2 billion worth of Russian enriched uranium to date, says it is preserving the life of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant by mixing the plant's higher-cost fuel with less-expensive Russian material.

Sewell said the equivalent of 700 more Russian warheads will be converted to nuclear fuel by the end of the year. "This is a monumental achievement in nuclear threat reduction and a success story by any measure," he said at the forum.

USEC is 40 percent ahead of the original 20-year schedule to convert the equivalent of about 20,000 Russian warheads. Sewell said the material converted so far would produce enough explosives to destroy every major city in the world or enough electricity to power a city the size of Boston for nearly 200 years.

Sewell said 428 ballistic missiles, 483 long-range nuclear cruise missiles, 225 submarine-launched ballistic missiles and other atomic weapons have been dismantled and destroyed. He said 5,600 nuclear warheads on strategic delivery systems aimed at the United States have been deactivated.

Since 1994, USEC has advanced payments to Russia many times, totaling hundreds of millions of dollars, to help convert the material or help Russia financially, Sewell said. Despite four interrupted deliveries, USEC used its production and inventory resources to meet customer sales.