Magazine article Arms Control Today

U.S. Trims Nuclear Material Stockpile

Magazine article Arms Control Today

U.S. Trims Nuclear Material Stockpile

Article excerpt

Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman announced Nov. 7 that the United States would reduce by 200 metric tons the amount of highly enriched uranium (HEU) stockpiled for nuclear weapons. Once the decades-long process is completed, the United States would still retain hundreds of metric tons of this nuclear bomb-making material.

Nuclear weapons require plutonium or HEU to function. A typical U.S. nuclear weapon employs both, a plutonium primary and an HEU secondary.

The 200 tons of HEU, which Bodman said could produce 8,000 weapons, would be allocated for three different purposes. The largest portion, 160 metric tons, would be reserved for powering the U.S. Navy's nuclear vessels, currently numbering 82 submarines and surface ships. Bodman claimed this move would postpone the need to build a new naval HEU fuel production facility for at least 50 years.

Another 20 metric tons would be preserved for reactors burning HEU fuel and for space missions. The reactor fuel would be needed primarily during a transition period until 2014 when Washington hopes to complete work on converting 105 research reactors worldwide to operate on less bombready fuel known as low-enriched uranium (LEU). By contrast, "space reactor applications would be minimal at this time but may evolve as NASA reexamines its longterm mission needs," a spokesperson with the Energy Department's semi-autonomous National Nuclear security Administration e-mailed Arms Control Today Nov. 18.

The remaining 20 metric tons would be blended down into LEU for purchase both by domestic and foreign users. …

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