Group calls for federal action to expedite conversion of U.S. HEU reactors

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The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine released a report late last week that said several obstacles are delaying conversion of U.S. research reactors so they can use low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel instead of weapons-grade highly enriched uranium (HEU).

The report urges the federal government to take action and expedite the reactor conversions, citing technical, political and economic obstacles. Within the technical realm, the National Academies said many former HEU reactors require higher-density LEU to retain performance standards. The U.S. is currently developing this special grade of fuel, but the manufacturing process presents many challenges, the report said.

In addition, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has authority over only half of all U.S. HEU reactors, and the report suggests that a long-term cross-agency strategy should be developed to facilitate the conversion of the other half.

The U.S. implemented programs to phase out HEU from use by civilian organizations and entities in 1978. This was implemented to eliminate risks of illicit use of HEU fuel. The DOE estimates that the conversion of all current HEU reactors worldwide would take approximately 20 years under current circumstances and 15 years to convert those in the U.S. to LEU fuel.

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National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine 500 5th St NW Washington, DC - 20001

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