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Nuclear Fuels

January 30, 2006

Yucca Mountain news; Pg. 6 Vol. 31 No. 3

Blend-down of USEC HEU near end, others gearing up, DOE official says

Daniel Horner

BWX Technologies Inc. has almost completed the downblending of more than 40 metric tons (MT) of high-enriched uranium (HEU) for USEC Inc., DOE's Dean Tousley said last week.

Tousley, acting deputy director in the office of disposition projects in DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), said BWXT should be finished with the job around June. The company is working through a stockpile of 45.8 MT of surplus HEU that the government has delivered to USEC, as required by the USEC Privatization Act.

Tousley noted that the amount is often cited as 50 MT. However, he said that figure was based on an assumed enrichment level of 40% U-235. Since the actual enrichment level of the material is about 43%, the amount was reduced somewhat, he said.

Speaking at the Nuclear Energy Institute's Nuclear Fuel Supply Forum Jan. 24 in Washington, D.C., Tousley also said a request for proposals (RFP) was "expected in the near future" from NNSA on the 17.4 MT of HEU that is to be blended down and made part of an international fuel bank (NF, 10 Oct. '05, 1). The RFP will cover both HEU downblending and storage of the resulting low-enriched uranium (LEU), he said.

In response to a question from Melissa Mann of Ux Consulting, he said foreign entities were eligible for the contract, although the blend-down would have to take place in the U.S. But he said it wasn't yet clear if the LEU could be stored overseas.

Mann later said Tousley's response indicated the uncertainty as to where the material for the fuel bank would be stored. One factor in that decision, she said, would have to be accessibility of the material to its potential recipients.

NNSA plans to award the contract and begin HEU deliveries in the current fiscal year, Tousley said. The downblending is projected to last from 2006 to 2009, he said.

NNSA's newest blend-down project is on a much more stretched-out schedule, he said. In November, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said an additional 200 MT HEU would be withdrawn from the U.S. weapons stockpile. Most of the total, 160 MT, is to be used to fabricate fuel for U.S. naval reactors, while 20 MT is to be used for fuel for the U.S. space program and for research reactors that cannot yet convert to LEU. Another 20 MT is to be downblended to LEU. (NF, 21 Nov., '05, 1)

Tousley estimated that about 20 or 30 MT of the 160 MT would not meet the specifications for naval reactor fuel and therefore would be added to the material to be blended down. When DOE announced the 200-MT withdrawal, NNSA Administrator Linton Brooks said some of the 20 MT from the research and space reactor category might be shifted to another use (NF, 21 Nov. '05, 1).

The timing of the downblending is tied to weapons dismantlement, which will take until about 2030, Tousley said.