The Associated Press
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The government on Tuesday ordered 12 tons of bomb-grade uranium converted into commercial reactor fuel as backup in case another source of fuel from weapon ingredients is delayed.
The highly enriched uranium, already declared surplus for the nation's nuclear arsenal, will come from the vast storage vaults at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge.
The material will be converted or "down-blended" at the Nuclear Fuel Services plant in Erwin, Tenn., into about 220 tons of low-enriched uranium suitable for commercial reactors. The work will begin this year and be completed in 2012.
The uranium will be shipped to Westinghouse Electric Co.'s Columbia Fuel Fabrication Facility in South Carolina and held in reserve for utilities contracting for reactor fuel from a plutonium mixed-oxide processing plant being built at the Savannah River Site.
The $4.8 billion mixed-oxide facility at Savannah River is scheduled to open in 2016. The program is on time to this point, officials said.
But "should there be a delay down the line in fabricating the stuff, the low-enriched uranium (from Nuclear Fuel Services) could be used to assure fuel supply" to participating utilities, said National Nuclear Security Administration spokesman Damien Lavera.
The low-enriched uranium is "the fallback, the backup plan," he said.
The National Nuclear Security Administration on Tuesday awarded a $209 million contract to Nuclear Fuel Services, a subsidiary of Virginia-based Babcock&Wilcox Co., and to Westinghouse-owned WesDyne International for the uranium conversion and storage, respectively.
The down-blended uranium will have a market value of more than $400 million, the NNSA said. Nuclear Fuel Services and WesDyne International will receive "a fraction" of the material for resale as compensation.
The Knoxville-based Tennessee Valley Authority is considering participation in the mixed-oxide program and could end up some of the converted plutonium or uranium, TVA spokesman Terry Johnson said.
TVA, the nation's largest public utility, has made similar purchases in the past, buying 39 tons of Nuclear Fuel Services-converted former weapons uranium in 2005 for its Browns Ferry nuclear station in Alabama.http://www.reflector.com/news/state/12-tons-of-bomb-grade-uranium-to-be-made-into-fuel-679766.html