The company cleaning up the Savannah River Site recently celebrated an important milestone for a project dubbed “From Swords to Plowshares.” For seven years, Savannah River Nuclear Solutions has been converting highly-enriched uranium, once used for creating nuclear warheads, into low-enriched uranium, which is a commercial blend used to power electricity.
Gigi Magoulas oversees the program. She says right now very few nuclear plants use low-enriched uranium.
It takes some of the highly-enriched uranium that we have here, and we down-blend it. Now the difference between that and what a lot of the commericial facilities are doing now is instead of down-blending uranium, they take natural uranium and they enrich it in order to get to where they want to be, which is about 5 percent enriched.
South Carolina’s nuclear plants are not yet able to use that type of fuel. However, this year, SNRS sent 24 shipments of the finished product to Alabama and Tennessee–four more shipments than the original goal.
The company says enough commercial reactor fuel has been created from the uranium to power every home in South Carolina for 9 years, while, at the same time, eliminating about 500 equivalent warheads. SNRS spokesman D.T. Townsend says that’s a good thing.
The beauty of it is, they’re burning this material that was formerly created for nuclear weapons. And the end result is, in essence, free electricity. So basically, it’s a “warheads to watts” situation.
He says it also helps solve a security issue, as it keeps the dangerous amounts of uranium from falling into the wrong hands.
We’re trying to convert it from a state where it can be used in nuclear weapons; therefore, a potentially attractive target for terrorists–and once you dilute it, it’s no longer an attractive target anymore.
Magoulas says the company’s goal is 16 more shipments next year, which would finish off their current uranium supply on the site.
We are anticipating another approximately 16 shipments in FY11, which complete the material that we currently have in the program. We are awaiting a decision from headquarters to allow some more used fuel disposition that has come from domestic and foreign research reactors.
She says it’s killing two birds with one stone–creating energy and dwindling the country’s nuclear weapons stockpile.