On 24 May 2018 Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited (JNFL) shipped 4 tonnes of LEU hexafluoride to the Mitsubishi Nuclear Fuel fabrication plant. TooNippo, a local paper in Aomori, reported at that time that it was the 25th shipment of uranium product and the first one since 2012. It was said to be old material that was produced earlier and stored at the plant.

The chart below, "Low-enriched uranium shipping," reproduced from the JNFL site, shows that no shipments were made in 2019.

JNFL-uranium-2019.png

It is not entirely clear why the plant is not shipping the uranium product, assuming that it produces one. Since 2012 the pant operates new centrifuges (RE-2A to RE-2C) that replaced the original machines that were shut down in 2011. According to JNFL, the current capacity of the plant is 1,050 tSWU/year. The facility is expected to reach the capacity of 1,500 tSWU/year by 2022.

Under an agreement between the State of Idaho and the U.S. government, reached in 1995, U.S. Department of Energy and U.S. Navy provide the state with information about spent fuel shipped to the Idaho National Laboratory. The table below contains the annual data on the naval spent fuel shipments compiled from the information collected by the Snake River Alliance. It updates the information published in 2018.

The Department of Energy informed the Governor of Idaho that it brought no spent fuel to the state in 2018. It also stated that the Department "has engaged in a program to recycle lightly used research reactor fuel. During 2018, 0.0107 MTHM of [spent nuclear fuel] was withdrawn from the onsite inventory and shipped off site to selected reactors in support of this effort." (This is probably the project to produce HALEU.) DoE said it has no plans to bring spent fuel to or remove it from the state in 2019.

U.S. Navy confirmed that in the calendar year 2018 "one train carried two containers of spent fuel, totaling approximately 0.3 MTHM" (as compared to the projected 0.5 MTHM). The 2019 plan is that "nine trains will carry seventeen shipping containers of naval spent fuel containing a total of approximately 2.0 metric tons of heavy metal (MTHM)."

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The Saskatchewan Research Council reported that it successfully removed fuel from its SLOWPOKE-II research reactor. The fuel has been transported to the United States and the reactor was transitioned into a "non-operational safe state."

SLOWPOKE-II reactor was the last research reactor in Canada that used 93% HEU fuel. It first reached criticality in 1981. Decommissioning of the reactor began in December 2017.

Exports of U.S. civilian HEU

This chart presents data on experts of U.S. highly-enriched uranium for civilian purposes. The data for 1957-2012 are taken from the "United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission Report to Congress on the Current Disposition of Highly Enriched Uranium Exports Used as Fuel or Targets in Nuclear Research or Test Reactors" (2014). The chart also presents data on export licenses granted by NRC after 2008. The actual amounts of material shipped abroad may not correspond to the amount in the license and the dates of shipments are normally not disclosed.

The Mining and Chemical Combine in Zheleznogorsk began serial production of MOX fuel for the BN-800 fast-neutron reactor. The first batch of 18 MOX fuel assemblies was sent to BN-800 on 16 August 2019. It is now stored at the reactor site.

The construction of the production line was completed in 2014 and it was formally launched in September 2015. The BN-800 reactor began operations in 2015 with a mixture of HEU fuel and MOX fuel assemblies manufactured elsewhere.

It is important to note that the Zheleznogorsk MOX fabrication plant used reactor-grade plutonium, referred to as a "high-background material" in Russia. According to the original plan, the plant was to process weapon-grade plutonium that Russia committed to eliminate under the US-Russian Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA). However, Russia suspended the implementation of the agreement in 2016. Even though it confirmed at the time that the 34 tonnes of the weapon-grade plutonium covered by that agreement will not be used for any military purpose, Russia apparently postponed the disposition of that material, turning to its civilian plutonium stock. Russia reported having 59 tonnes of civilian plutonium as of the end of 2017. The plutonium for the first MOX fuel assemblies also came from the civilian stock, although it was said to be a weapon-grade material produced in fast-neutron reactor blankets in the past.

Anatoly Diakov, Pavel Podvig

According to a story published in Kommersant, Russia's BN-1200 fast neutron reactor is unlikely to come online until 2036. An earlier plan called for the first BN-1200 unit to begin operations in 2030 with dense nitride uranium-plutonium fuel.

Russia's national nuclear company (Rosatom) believes that, in the longer term, the development of nuclear power requires a closed fuel cycle based on fast-neutron plutonium-breeder reactors. In February 2010, Russia's government adopted the federal target programs (FTP2010) "Nuclear Energy Technologies of the New Generation for the Period of 2010-2015 and until 2020." The program focused on the development and demonstration of a variety of prototypes of fast-neutron lead, lead-bismuth and sodium cooled reactors with closed fuel cycles. Although the most developed fast-reactor technology in Russia is sodium-cooled reactors, the FTP2010 gave priority in financing to lead-cooled fast-neutron reactors with dense nitride fuel. The program included two projects - the BREST-300 lead-cooled fast reactor with associated nitride fuel fabricating/re-fabricating and spent fuel reprocessing facilities and the SVBR-100 lead-bismuth fast reactor, which were expected to be completed in 2020.

As for the sodium-cooled reactor, FTP2010 allocated funds only for the design of a larger commercial reactor, the BN-1200. The design work was expected to be completed in 2016. Rosenergoatom, the Russian utility operating nuclear power plants, planned to begin construction of three power units with BN-1200 reactors in Russia by 2030. The Beloyarskaya NPP has been selected as a site for the first BN-1200 unit.

The decision to begin construction of the reactors has been delayed, however. One reason given is the need to reduce the construction cost to the level comparable to that of light-water reactors. Another is the need to develop the fuel fabrication technology for both MOX and dense uranium-plutonium mixed nitride fuel, based on the operating experience of the BN-800 reactor.

In August 2015, Rosatom's Scientific & Technical Board undertook a review of the BN-1200 project. The review concluded that BN-1200 technology will not have a competitive advantage in the market. In addition, the Board wanted to have a better understanding of all aspects of the fuel cycle. Taking into account the economic factors and the need to improve fuel for the BN-1200 Rosenergoatom decided to delay the construction decision to at least 2020. Meanwhile, operating experience of the BN-800 reactor is to be used to work on fuel fabrication technology for both MOX and dense uranium-plutonium mixed nitride fuel.

In March of 2018, the Government of the Russian Federation, citing the economic slowdown that has led to lower energy demand projections, issued a decree that amended the FTP2010. Now the program is to be focused only on the construction of the nitride fuel fabrication module and the first stage of the fuel re-fabrication facility. Recently Rosatom announced that the nitride fuel fabrication/re-fabrication facility will be commissioned no earlier than 2022. The BREST-300 reactor is now expected to begin operations in 2026. SVBR-100, which Rosatom was planning to build without support from the state budget, has been effectively discontinued. It is also important to note that the BN-800 reactor, which was supposed to provide BN-1200 with the operating experience and data on the closed fuel cycle, is yet to operate with a fully loaded MOX core.

The decision to delay construction of BN-1200 to the 2030s can therefore be explained by a combination of factors, which include: the economic situation in the country, the reduced projected demand for electric power, the uncertainty about the economic effectiveness of BN-1200, as compared to VVER-1200, the lack of a proven technology for the production of dense nitride fuel as well as the fact that BN-800 is yet to begin operations with MOX and nitride fuels.

U.S. Department of Energy requested an export license (XSNM3810) (original application) to ship 4.772 kg of HEU to Europe. The material will be used to manufacture targets used in production of Mo-99.

The license application seeks approval of export of "4.455 kg uranium-235 contained in maximum of 4.772 kg uranium, enriched to maximum of 93.35%, in the form of unalloyed broken metal." The material will be shipped to a Framatome facility in France that will manufacture the targets, which will be irradiated in BR-2 reactor in Belgium, HFR reactor in the Netherlands, LVR-15 reactor in Czech Republic, and Maria reactor in Poland. Institute for Radioelements (IRE) in Belgium, where the targets will be reprocessed, is listed as the ultimate destination of the material. Previous license of this kind, XSNM3795 for 4.97 kg of HEU, was requested in August 2018 and granted in October 2018.

The government of Japan released The Status Report of Plutonium Management in Japan - 2018, which details its plutonium holdings. According to the report,

As of the end of 2018, the total amount of separated plutonium both managed within and outside of Japan was approximately 45.7 tons, approximately 9.0 tons of which was held domestically and the rest of approximately 36.7 tons was held abroad.

The amount of domestic storage was approximately 9.0 tons at the end of 2018, as electric utilities (Kansai Takahama unit 3, 4 and Kyushu Genkai unit 3) irradiated approximately 1.5 tons of separated plutonium.

Of the plutonium stored abroad, 15,460 kg are stored in France (15,486 in 2017) and 21,205 kg - in the United Kingdom (21,232 in 2017). The reprocessing of Japan's spent fuel held in France had been completed by the end of 2017. The United Kingdom holds about 0.6 tonnes of Japan's plutonium in spent fuel. It appears that none of that material was separated in 2018.

In 2017, Japan reported having a total of 47.3 tons of separated plutonium, of which 10.5 tons were held domestically.

TVEL, the fuel-manufacturing subsidiary of Rosatom, delivered a batch of fuel for China's Experimental Fast Reactor (CEFR). The CEFR reactor has been operating with Russia-supplied HEU fuel (reported to be 64.4% HEU) since 2010. Additional fuel supply agreements were reached in 2013 (one batch) and in 2016 (two batches). It is not immediately clear if the fuel delivered in July 2019 completes the supply under the 2016 agreement.