The United States will down-blend 20.2 tons of highly-enriched uranium to use the resulting LEU in reactors of the Tennessee Valley Authority that produce tritium for the U.S. nuclear weapon program. The cost of the six-year contract, awarded to Nuclear Fuel Services, a subsidiary of BWX Technology, is $505 million, the work is expected to begin in 2019.

According to the current plans (as outlined in the DoE FY2019 budget request, p. 461) the United States will complete down-blending of 162 MT of surplus HEU in FY2019; 159.7 tons had been down-blended already. The 20.2 tons of HEU will not come from the surplus HEU, however, since the production of tritium requires unobligated HEU. It is not clear, however, why the down-blending is necessary as DOE's 2015 report to Congress, Tritium and Enriched Uranium Management Plan Through 2060 identified sources of enough LEU to fuel the Tennessee Valley Authority reactors until about 2040. The DoE also considers developing centrifuge technology that could be used to produce unobligated LEU. Down-blending of the existing HEU stock, however, would be a viable alternative to building a new enrichment plant.

Paul Meyer

The United Nations has released the report of the 25-country high-level fissile material cut-off treaty (FMCT) expert preparatory group. The group was tasked with making recommendations on substantial elements of a treaty to ban the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons, a long-standing, if equally long neglected goal of the international community.

The group was established in 2016 (pursuant to UN General Assembly resolution 71/259) and met over the 2017-2018 timeframe under the chairmanship of Ambassador Heidi Hulan of Canada. The report was agreed unanimously by the group at its final meeting on June 8, 2018.

The group had members, most of whom were diplomats, representing Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, Colombia, Egypt, Estonia, France, Germany, India, Indonesia Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Senegal, South Africa, South Korea, Senegal, Sweden, and the United States of America.

The preparatory group was a sort of sequel to an earlier UN Group of Governmental Experts that examined the same issues relevant to an eventual FMCT and which had issued a consensus report in 2015. Despite the explicit intention to build-on, but not duplicate the 2015 report, the underlying differences amongst states and the closed-door discussions of the group (that offered no incentive to compromise on preferred positions), yielded a similar "menu" of possible treaty elements without narrowing the range of these options.

The report noted as one possibility that "the structure of the treaty could be established so as to enable the entry into force of an initial framework or umbrella treaty, with two or more protocols to be negotiated subsequently, including according to a specific timeframe."

It concluded that given the various possibilities for the scope and structure of an FMCT, "further work is needed to elaborate the various verification regime models to determine how they might work in practice. Similarly, additional work could usefully be done to assess the resource implications of the possible verification and institutional models."

The group's recommendation that "The negotiation of a treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons ...begin without delay in the Conference on Disarmament," seemed at best an exercise in wishful thinking given the moribund state of this diplomatic forum.

To make progress, concerned states will need to engage in some creative diplomacy that would actually result in the initiation of negotiations of an FMCT in a multilateral forum not subject to veto by any one state.

Options for how this might best be achieved include a United Nations General Assembly resolution setting up talks, as happened with the recent Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Alternatively, Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States, who are the five nuclear weapon states recognized in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or a larger group of states possessing fissile material stocks or fissile material production facilities could launch ad hoc negotiations on a treaty.

(This post is based on the column in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists)

The U.S. Idaho National Laboratory has successfully completed the first fueled experiment at the Transient Reactor Test (TREAT) Facility. TREAT is one of the remaining U.S. research reactors that use HEU fuel. It was placed on standby in 1994, but recently resumed operations. The facility will be used for "the development of nuclear fuels, for both the existing fleet and a new generation of advanced reactors under design."

The decision to restart the reactor was made in 2014. The Department of Energy studied the possibility of converting the reactor to LEU, but decided against it. TREAT uses about 20 kg of HEU enriched to 93.1%.

This post contains a summary of INFCIRC/549 reports by the countries that submit annual civilian plutonium declarations that reflect the status of civilian plutonium stocks as of 31 December 2017. The post will be updated as more states submit their reports.

  1. Japan (INFCIRC/549/Add.1-21) reported owning the total of 47.3 tons of plutonium, 10.6 tons of which is in Japan (the numbers in 2016 were 47.8 tons and 10.7 tons respectively). According to the Status Report on Plutonium Management in Japan - 2017 released in July 2018, out of the 36.7 tons of plutonium abroad, 21.232 tons are in the United Kingdom and 15.486 tons are in France. Japan is currently working on a new approach to plutonium management.

  2. Germany (INFCIRC/549/Add.2-21) reported having no separated plutonium in the country (0.5 tons in 2016). Germany does not report separated plutonium outside of the country. It is believed to be less than 1 ton.

  3. Belgium (INFCIRC/549/Add.3-17) declared no separated plutonium in storage or at reprocessing plants and "less than 50 kg" of separated plutonium in other categories. It reported that it had no foreign plutonium as of 31 December 2017. Belgium also corrected the 2016 report, stating that it had no foreign plutonium as of 31 December 2016 as well, not "less than 50 kg" as it reported at the time.

  4. Switzerland (INFCIRC/549/Add.4-22/Corr.) reported having less than 2 kg of plutonium in the country (in the "located elsewhere" category). The number has not changed since 2016 (it was "less than 50 kg" in 2015).

  5. France has not yet submitted its 2017 report (as of 19 September 2018).

  6. The United States has not yet submitted its 2017 report (as of 19 September 2018).

  7. China has not yet submitted its 2017 report (as of 19 September 2018).

  8. The United Kingdom has not yet submitted its 2017 report and hasn't yet published its 2017 national report (as of 19 September 2018).

  9. Russia (INFCIRC/549/Add.9-20) reported owning 59.0 tons of civilian plutonium. This includes 56.7 tons of material in storage, 1.8 tons of plutonium in unirradiated MOX and 0.5 tons of plutonium stored elsewhere. The numbers in 2016 were 54.9, 1.7, and 0.6 tons respectively for the total of 57.2 tons.

In addition to reporting plutonium stocks, some countries also submit data on their civilian HEU:

Germany reported 0.32 tonnes of HEU in research reactor fuel (0.33 tons in 2016), 0.94 tonnes of HEU in irradiated research reactor fuel, and 0.01 tonnes in the category "HEU held elsewhere."

2018-09-18.jpgSpeaking at the 2018 CINE Forum held in Beijing in September 2018, Christophe Poinssot, CEA representative at the French Embassy in China, said that while France and China are sill discussing commercial aspects of the agreement to build a 800 tHM/year reprocessing plant in China, the plan agreed on in January 2018 calls for completion of the negotiations by the end of 2018. The construction work is expected to begin in 2020 and the plant will be completed in 2030.

In June 2018 Orano and CNNC began preparatory work related to the project.

On 30 August 2018, Brazil inaugurated the seventh cascade of centrifuges at its enrichment plant in Resende. With the addition of the cascade the plat is said to have the capacity to produce about 50% of the enriched uranium required for an annual load of the Angra-1 nuclear power reactor.

The reported capacity of the plant corresponds to about 35,000 SWU/year or about 5,000 SWU/year per a cascade. This is in general agreement with the earlier information about operations of the plant - the total capacity of four cascades that operated in 2014 was reported to be 17,000 SWU/year.

The Resende plant began commercial operations in January 2009. At the time the capacity of a cascade was estimated to be 3,200-4,000 SWU/year.

Tatsujiro Suzuki and Masa Takubo

On 31 July 2018, Japan's Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) issued a new policy paper, The Basic Principles on Japan's Utilization of Plutonium, which for the first time, stated that "Japan will reduce the size of its plutonium stockpile." A similar statement was included in the new Strategic Energy Plan (in Japanese) by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) that was adopted on 3 July by the Cabinet of the Japanese government.

Japan's plutonium stockpile, according to the data released by the JAEC at the same time as the new policy, is about 47.3 tons of plutonium (as of the end of 2017), of which 36.7 tons is overseas (21.2 tons in UK and 15.5 tons in France) and 10.5 tons in Japan. The Rokkasho reprocessing plant, with a design separation capacity of 8 tons of plutonium per year, on which stated construction in 1993, is currently planned to be completed in 2021. Plans call for the J-MOX plant to be completed in 2022 to turn this plutonium into MOX fuel for light water (LWR) nuclear power reactors.

Summary of JAEC's new policy

The new policy has five key aspects.

Reprocessing will be approved by METI under the Spent Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing Implementation Act only to the extent necessary for specified MOX use in LWRs. The government will assure that MOX fuel is to be fully consumed in a timely manner by instructing the operators.

Reactor operators are to "minimize the [unirradiated plutonium-containing] feedstock" between reprocessing and irradiation.

The utilities are to focus on reducing Japan's plutonium stockpile stored overseas through measures including "collaboration and cooperation," i.e. transfer of ownership to reactor operators in a position to use more unirradiated plutonium than they own.

Japan's Atomic Energy Agency must examine all options including disposal of the unirradiated plutonium it acquired for R&D purposes if there is no concrete plan to use.

Spent fuel storage capacity is to be expanded steadily.


The new policy is a step into a right direction. It is not sufficient, however, to guarantee that there will in fact be a "reduction" of Japan's plutonium stockpile. There are several reasons for this.

The new policy is based on the assumption that the Rokkasho reprocessing plant will be operated. Unless the government changes this policy, it will be difficult to reduce Japan's plutonium stockpile substantially.

If the Rokkasho reprocessing plant is started as scheduled, it will be difficult to realize the new policy that Japan's total "stockpile will not increase from the current level." Certainly, the stock of unirradiated plutonium in Japan is likely to increase greatly as long as the necessary minimum MOX feed stock and use plans remain undefined,

Although the pace of plutonium separation at Rokkasho can be controlled by METI, the government has no legal authority to control the rate of plutonium use in MOX to assure that plutonium use exceeds plutonium supply. JAEC's new policy does not have any specific plan to remedy this lack of authority.

Minimizing the "feedstock" is the right policy but will have no significant impact on the utilities' reprocessing plans in the absence of a clear specification of what is expected to be the acceptable "minimum" stock of unirradiated plutonium.

The plan to have the J-MOX fuel fabrication plant start one year after the startup of the Rokkasho reprocessing plant may be as wildly optimistic as was the original plan to start commercial reprocessing at Rokkasho in 1997.

The new policy focuses on MOX use of plutonium stored in France and the UK and suggests that ownership of plutonium there should be transferred among utilities so that those that have operating reactors licensed to use MOX can consume plutonium owned by others who don't. Transfer of ownership of plutonium among utilities has been done before. If necessary, the government can exercise its legal authority under Article 13 of Japan's Atomic Energy Basic Act which allows the government to order institutions to transfer fissile materials with specified price.

It will take some ten years to use as MOX fuel in Japanese reactors the Japanese plutonium stored in France, even assuming the free transfer among Japan's utilities of this plutonium. Japan has only four operating reactors licensed to use MOX with a combined capacity to consume about two tons of plutonium per year without much hope for more MOX-using reactors to come on line in the next several years. About two tons of plutonium in MOX is already in the pools of those reactors waiting to be loaded.

Japan owns almost all of the remaining foreign plutonium stored in UK. The UK does not have a MOX fuel fabrication plant, however. The new policy did not discuss the proposal made by the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to take over title of foreign-owned plutonium stored in UK. As of January 2017, the UK had taken title to 8.5 tons of foreign plutonium it has separated and stores. Transfer to the UK of title to the remaining Japanese plutonium should be considered a "win-win" deal for both Japan and the UK. It also would reduce the challenge of securely transporting plutonium from Europe to Japan.

JAEC's mention of "disposal" of R&D plutonium is the first time that the government has described Japan's stock of separated plutonium as a "disposal" problem rather than as a "resource". This is a hopeful sign.

Encouraging spent fuel storage is the right policy but it should be done as an alternative to reprocessing not to facilitate the regulation of the rate of reprocessing.

U.S. Department of Energy requested an export license (XSNM3795) to ship 4.97 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 "4.63 kg uranium-235 contained in maximum of 4.97 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, XSNM3794 for 5.274 kg of HEU, was requested in March 2018 and granted in April 2018.

UPDATE: The license XSNM3795 was issued on 12 October 2018.

According to the 2017 Annual Report of the Afrikantov Design Bureau (OKBM), it is working on developing life-time cores for Russia's nuclear submarines. Below is a translated excerpt from a section of the report that describes these projects (p. 84). Clarifying comments are in square brackets.


  1. [The design bureau] completed development, fabrication and inter-departmental testing of two transport reactor active zones - 1) an optimized core for a submarine of the 4th generation with refueling at the time of medium repair of the ship and 2) a new core, unique in the domestic history, with a lifetime resource for the entire life cycle of the ship. Successful operation of the 4th generation cores [on submarines that are already in service] and the "3+" campaign of the KV-1 stand [at NITI in Sosnovyy Bor] confirms the correctness of design decisions on which new projects of shipboard active zones are based;

  2. [The design bureau] continued work on zirconium active zones for operating nuclear icebreakers 14-10-3MP [Arktika and Sibir Project 22220 icebreakers]. Taking into account the achieved fuel characteristics with safety and ecological compatibility, these products are considered as a unique achievement of reactor technology. Zones produce the assigned energy resource without depressurization, that is, the principle of "zero failure" is implemented;

  3. Support has been provided for the production of active zones 14-15-1 for universal nuclear icebreakers [i.e. Project 22220] that are currently under construction. [14-15-1 was described earlier as a core with "intermetallic fuel" and is believed to be HEU-based.] Acceptance tests of these zones were completed in 2016 and they are currently in serial production. These zones have more than twice the energy resource as those of the existing icebreakers and will ensure the operation of the icebreaker for about 10 years without refueling;

  4. [The design bureau] carried out work on the draft project of a low-power nuclear power plant ["АС ММ" in Russian] on the basis of the RITM-200 reactor. This work is interesting first of all because of the special condition - a naval reactor would be operating on land. [The design bureau completed] preliminary design of a variant of an active zone that is similar to the 14-15-1 core of the universal icebreaker ["УАЛ" in Russian], but with an increased height of the fuel part of fuel elements and that uses a cermet fuel, which has no analogues to date on energy-resource characteristics. [Cermet fuel was described earlier as LEU fuel developed for the 14-15-2 cores.] If a decision is taken to implement the project, the forthcoming work will allow the developers of the active zones to work on new, interesting and so far undeveloped issues of designing active zones with tall fuel assemblies.