Privatization of the US Nuclear Fuel Enrichment and Use of Russian Highly Enriched Materials
Fuel used in commercial nuclear reactors, usually in the uranium dioxide form, contains 3 to 5% uranium-235. The remainder of the uranium is U-238. Since the 1940's, the U.S. government has controlled the enrichment process. Plants in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Ohio used gaseous diffusion to concentrate the U-235. In Europe, the newer gas centrifuge process is used. In the 90's, the U.S. government decided to privatize the enrichment facilities through formation of the United States Enrichment Corporation. In addition, the United States entered into an agreement with Russia to purchase highly enriched uranium (greater than 20% U-235) from material removed from disassembled weapons. As a result of these purchases, the U.S. will require less use of the enrichment facilities. In the 2008-2010 timeframe, the Russian materials should account for ~ 50% of the U.S. enriched uranium needs.
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