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 chart above and the table at the end of the message summarize this information as of the end of 2023.

The information is published by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality as a document "Cleanup Progress at the INL under the 1995 Settlement Agreement". The document is regularly updated and contains information about two most recent calendar years. Here are archived copies of the document with information for 2019-2020 and 2021-2022, and 2022-2023. Earlier information, published in 2018 and 2019, used data provided by the Snake River Alliance.

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The Department of Energy announced that it is unlocking $2.7 billion to boost domestic enrichment capacity. The DoE issued a request for proposals "to purchase low-enriched uranium (LEU) from domestic sources." The funds will be available to "new enrichment facilities or projects that expand the capacity of existing enrichment facilities."

One project that should be able to use these funds is the expansion of the capacity of the Urenco USA plan in Eunice, New Mexico. Centrus, which uses US centrifuge technology, has been focusing on HALEU production, but would be eligible for these funds as well. Yet another potential beneficiary of this program is Global Laser Enrichment (GLE), which welcomed the news.

In 2019, Russia and China signed a contract for the supply of HEU fuel for the first seven years of operation of the CFR-600 fast neutron reactor. The reactor, located at Xiapu, started operations in December 2023. The second reactor, which is under construction at the same site, is expected to begin operations in 2026.

Fast neutron reactors can produce high-quality weapon-grade plutonium in the uranium blanket surrounding the active zone. China has maintained that this material will be used exclusively in its peaceful program. And indeed, the terms of the fuel supply agreement appear to restrict the use of the plutonium produced when the reactor uses the HEU fuel supplied by Russia.

Two key documents that regulate the issue are the Russian Regulations on the Export and Import of Nuclear Materials, first issued by the Russian government in 2000 and last amended in February 2023, and the Agreement on Cooperation in the Area of Peaceful Use of Nuclear Energy, which Russia and China signed in 1996.

According to paragraph 6 of the Regulations, export of materials like HEU to nuclear weapon states is allowed only if

exported items and items produced based on them will not be used for the production of nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices or for any military purposes.

The Regulations requires the recipient state to provide written guarantees of peaceful use, which is then assessed by Rosatom (paragraph 8).

Article 4 of the Agreement on Cooperation contains similar language:

The parties assume that the items of nuclear export transferred under this Agreement will not be used for the production of nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices or for any military purposes.

These two documents clearly prohibit the use "for any military purpose" of the plutonium that would be produced by any reactor that uses HEU fuel supplied by Russia.

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 2022. The total amount of plutonium declared as civilian was about 370 tonnes, an increase of about 7 tonnes since the end of 2021. Only about 140 tons of this material are under international (IAEA or Euratom) safeguards. The other 230 tonnes are not safeguarded, but are covered by various obligations not to use the material for military purposes.

Japan (INFCIRC/549/Add.1-26) reported owning the total of 45.1 tons of plutonium, 9.2 tons of which is in Japan (the numbers in 2021 were 45.8 tons and 9.3 tons respectively). According to the Status Report on Plutonium Management in Japan - 2022 released in July 2023, out of the 35.9 tons of plutonium abroad, 21.757 tons are in the United Kingdom and 14.113 tons are in France.

Germany (INFCIRC/549/Add.2-26) reported having no separated plutonium in the country for the third year in a row. Germany does not report separated plutonium outside of the country. It is believed to be less than 1 ton.

Belgium (INFCIRC/549/Add.3-22) declared no separated plutonium in storage or at reprocessing plants and "not zero, but less than 50 kg" of separated plutonium in other categories. It reported that it had no foreign plutonium as of 31 December 2022.

Switzerland (INFCIRC/549/Add.4-27) 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).

France (INFCIRC/549/Add.5-27) reported having 106.2 tons of separated unirradiated plutonium in its custody. Of this amount, 14.33 tons belongs to foreign countries. It appears that almost all that plutonium - 14,113 kg - belongs to Japan. The amount of plutonium owned by France is 91.87 tons, an increase of 6.97 tons from previous year (84.9 tons).

The United States in its 2022 report (INFCIRC/549/Add.6-25) declared 49.2 tons of separated plutonium, of which 4.6 tons are in MOX fuel and 44.6 tons are "held elsewhere" (most of this material is believed to be in weapon components). The total amount was reported to be 49.4 tons in 2021. It is possible that the change reflects the process of disposal of some material. The amount described as "disposed as waste" was 4.5 tons in 2021 and 4.7 tons in 2022.

China has not has not submitted its 2017-2022 reports as of 25 March 2024. The last INFCIRC/549 report submitted to the IAEA showed 40.9 kg of separated plutonium as of 31 December 2016.

The United Kingdom (INFCIRC/549/Add.8-26) reported owning 116.4 tons of separated plutonium, a decrease from 116.5 in 2021. In addition to that, the United Kingdom stores 24.1 tons of foreign plutonium (of which 21.757 tons is owned by Japan).

Russia (INFCIRC/549/Add.9-25) reported owning 64.5 tons of civilian plutonium, an increase of 1 ton from 2021.

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

Germany reported 0.35 tonnes of HEU in research reactor fuel, 0.94 tonnes of HEU in irradiated research reactor fuel, and 0.01 tonnes in the category "HEU held elsewhere." None of the numbers have changed since 2020.

France declared 5312 kg of HEU (5313 kg in 2021), of which 3761 kg (3760 kg) is unirradiated material - 506 kg (804 kg) of HEU at fuel fabrication or reprocessing plants, 78 kg (60 kg) at civil reactor sites, 3177 kg (2896 kg) at various research facilities. Also declared are 1551 kg (1533 kg) of irradiated HEU - 40 kg (62 kg) at civil reactor sites and 1511 kg (1491 kg) in other locations.

The United Kingdom reported having 691 kg of HEU (734 kg in 2021). Of this amount, 554 kg is unirradiated HEU (598 in 2021): less than 1 kg of unirradiated HEU is stored at the enrichment plants, less than 1 kg is at civil reactor sites, 440 kg - at fuel fabrication facilities, and 114 kg - at other sites (420 kg and 178 kg respectively in 2020). Irradiated HEU is located at civil reactor sites (5 kg) and other sites (131 kg).

During a visit to the Civaux nuclear power plant on 18 March 2024, France's Minister of the Armed Forces unveiled a plan to use the plant to produce tritium for the French nuclear weapons program. Civaux is a civilian power plant that belongs to and is operated by Electricité de France. According to the report, the nuclear regulator, l'Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire, is expected to issue an approval in September 2024. The first test assemblies will be loaded in the reactor during a scheduled refueling in 2025.

Until now, France has been producing tritium in reactors of the CEA (Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique, Atomic Energy Commission). The practice of producing tritium in power reactors has been used by the United States, where lithium targets are irradiated in the reactors of the Tennessee Valley Authority. It should be noted that according to the US policy, reactors that produce tritium cannot use uranium enriched at civilian facilities. Uranium for the reactors involved in tritium production is obtained by down-blending excess military HEU.

This is not the first time France has used a civilian nuclear reactor for the weapons program. France used its Phénix breeder reactor for producing plutonium for the nuclear-weapon program (see "Fast Breeder Reactor Programs: History and Status", p. 25)

On 4 March 2024, India announced the "commencement of core loading" of the Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR).

The construction of the reactor began in 2004 and its operation has been delayed numerous times. In March 2023, the Department of Atomic Energy announced that the reactor will begin operations in 2024. Although core loading marks a significant step towards this goal, the date when the reactor is expected to achieve criticality has not yet been announced.

Hui Zhang

In 2023, the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) completed and may have started operating two large new centrifuge enrichment plants (CEP).

CNNC is operating three large centrifuge enrichment facilities that produce LEU for civilian purposes: Lanzhou (Gansu province, Plant 504), Hanzhong (Shaanxi province, Plant 405), and Emeishan (Sichuan province, the Emeishan civilian facility of Plant 814) (for more detail see: Hui Zhang, "China's uranium enrichment and plutonium recycling 2020-2040: current practices and projected capacities," in China's Civil Nuclear Sector: Plowshares to Swords?). In 2023, CNNC added two new centrifuge enrichment plants (CEP) to these facilities: Emeishan CEP3 (i.e. Project 3 at Emeishan) and Lanzhou CEP5.

Emeishan CEP3

Satellite imagery taken in February 2015 shows early construction activities at Emeishan CEP3, including preparation for pad construction. The images also reveal that construction was suspended from at least February 2016. However, according to local government documents, construction resumed and continued from 2019 through 2022. Satellite images show that major construction work was completed around November 2021. According to Chinese sources, Emeishan CEP3 started trial production as early as January 2023, and was expected to begin normal operation around the end of 2023. Unlike the other two facilities at Emeishan, CEP1 and CEP2, which are equipped with first-generation centrifuges, CEP3 is believed to be using second-generation centrifuges. These have been operating at the Hanzhong plant 405 since 2017.

20231215-Emeishan.png Emeishan CEP3 is believed to have a capacity of about 1.5-2 million SWU/year. Therefore, when combined with Emeishan CEP1 and Emeishan CEP2, which have a combined capacity of 2.2 million SWU/year, the total estimated capacity of the Emeishan enrichment facility has risen to approximately 4 million SWU/year. The image above, taken in May 2022, shows the layout of the facility (29.677314, 103.534625, Credit: CNES/Airbus, Google Earth).

Lanzhou CEP5

Construction activity at the main building of the Project 5 plant is visible in satellite images taken in late 2014. Other images also indicate that construction appeared to have been suspended in late 2015, but it resumed in the second half of 2022. The construction was apparently completed in early 2023, and according to Chinese sources, the Project 5 plant began initial operations around fall 2023. It is expected to start normal operations as early as the end of 2023.

20231215-Lanzhou.png As with Emeishan CEP3, Lanzhou CEP5 uses second-generation centrifuges and is estimated to have the total estimated capacity of 1.5-2 million SWU/year. Since the capacity of the other four plants at Lanzhou is about 2.6 million SWU/year, operations of Project 5 plant will bring the total capacity of Lanzhou plant to about 4.4 million SWU/year. The image above, taken in November 2022, shows the layout of the Lanzhou facility (36.148139, 103.523472, Credit: Maxar, Google Earth).

The table below describes individual plants at Emeishan and Lanzhou.

China's enrichment capacity

Taking into account the Hanzhong plant 405, which has a capacity of about 2.7 million SWU/year, China's total enrichment capacity is about 11 million SWU/year. This would be sufficient to provide enrichment services for the reactors with the total installed capacity of 70 GWe, which, according to the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025), China is set up to achieve by 2025. Most of these reactors are light-water reactors, which are assumed to require about 130 tonne-SWU/year/GWe.

If China plans to bring its installed nuclear capacity to about 100 GWe by 2030, this will require an enrichment capacity of about 13 million SWU/year. It is anticipated that China will install about 2 million SWU/year or more during next Five-Year Plan (2026-2030). This expansion means that China will significantly increase its enrichment capacity. However, currently, it will primarily focus on servicing domestic demand.

Hui Zhang

20231215-CFR-600.jpgAccording to Chinese sources, China started up its first CFR-600 breeder reactor, running it at low power as of mid-2023. As of October 2023, the reactor had not yet been connected to the grid. The exact timeline for when it might begin generating electricity is unknown.

The reactor is the first of the two breeder reactors of this type built at Xiapu, Fujian province. The image above shows the reactor site (26.803567° 120.154710°) as of 23 December 2022.

Construction of the first unit began in 2017. At the time it was expected to begin operations in 2023, so the project is progressing according to the original plan. The initial core of the reactor is loaded with HEU fuel supplied by Russia. The first batch of fuel was delivered in 2022.

Construction of a second CFR-600 reactor at the same site started in 2020. This unit is expected to become operational in 2026.