By ALAN J. KUPERMAN and FRANK N. VON HIPPEL
The first two summits played a critical role in phasing out the use of highly enriched uranium as fuel in research reactors to prevent its misuse by states or terrorists to make nuclear weapons.
But the previous conclaves have failed to address the single largest use of such fuel: in nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers. At this summit, world powers must take an important first step toward ending that dangerous and unnecessary practice.
International efforts to end the use of H.E.U. in research reactors began in the 1970s. In its place, engineers developed low-enriched uranium fuels — enriched to less than 20 percent — unsuitable for weapons. These efforts have eliminated half the annual worldwide use of H.E.U. in research reactors, or about 1,700 pounds, enough for 30 nuclear weapons.
But naval reactors use about four times as much H.E.U., over 6,000 pounds per year. The United States is the biggest consumer, using about 4,500 pounds a year, more than the combined total of Russia, Britain and India, the other three navies that use H.E.U. fuel.
But H.E.U. is not actually necessary for naval reactors. France and China use low-enriched uranium in their nuclear submarines, and Russia has developed an L.E.U. reactor for its next generation of nuclear-powered icebreaker ships.
Congress has tried for 20 years to nudge the Navy into using L.E.U. In 1994, legislators mandated a feasibility study, but the Navy rejected the idea, saying it would increase costs. The Navy’s 1995 report did not, however, consider advanced designs or the security benefits and security cost savings from L.E.U. fuel.
If the United States converted to L.E.U., Britain, which depends on America for both its H.E.U. and nuclear submarine technology, would as well. Russia and India could convert to L.E.U. more easily because they use less than fully enriched H.E.U. and, like France, have designed their nuclear submarines to be refueled every 10 years or so. (By contrast, American and British reactor cores are designed to last the lifetime of the vessel.)
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Db 4 days ago
Where’s the HEU that was stolen in the 60s & 90s?
MacDonald 4 days ago
We are an evolutionary accident that inhabit a a small water plane in the Goldilocks zone of our local star, 3’4 from our galactic centre,…
Ward Wilson 4 days ago
Sensible, sound and clearly (compared to a nuclear weapon in the hands of terrorists) worth the cost.
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By making a decision in principle now, the four countries with H.E.U.-fueled navies could establish an international norm of L.E.U. fuel and pressure new nuclear navies to follow suit.