The US company Centrus began operating a centrifuge cascade that will produce high-assay low enriched uranium (HALEU). The cascade, comprised of 16 centrifuges, is deployed at the American Centrifuge Plant in Piketon, Ohio. It is expected to produce about 20 kg of HALEU by the end of the year. The capacity of the current cascade is estimated to be sufficient to produce about 900 kg of HALEU a year. Centrus plans to build a cascade of 120 centrifuges that will be producing about 6000 kg of HALEU a year. This plan, however, depends on the availability of funding. Operations of the current cascade were supported by the Department of Energy.
The government of Japan released The Status Report of Plutonium Management in Japan - 2022, which details its plutonium holdings. According to the report,
As of the end of 2022, the total amount of separated plutonium both managed within and outside of Japan was approximately 45.1 tons, approximately 9.3 tons of which was held domestically and the rest of approximately 35.9 tons was held abroad.
The amount of domestic storage, 9.3 tons, hasn't changed since 2021. While about 0.6 tons were loaded into the Takahama Unit 4 reactor, approximately the same amount of plutonium fabricated into MOX fuel was transferred from France.
Of the plutonium stored abroad, 14,113 kg are stored in France (14,760 in 2021) and 21,757 kg - in the United Kingdom (21,780 in 2021). The reprocessing of Japan's spent fuel held in France had been completed by the end of 2017.
In 2021, Japan reported having a total of 45.8 tons of separated plutonium, of which 9.3 tons were held domestically.
URENCO USA (UUSA) is planning to deploy additional centrifuge cascades at its facility in the United States. According to the company, the addition
will provide an additional capacity of around 700 tonnes of SWU per year, a 15 per cent increase at UUSA, with the first new cascades online in 2025.
UUSA operates an enrichment facility in Eunice, New Mexico since 2010. The plant is licensed to produce LEU with enrichment of up to 5% (although UUSA has been exploring an option of producing HALEU with enrichment of up to 20%). The current capacity of the Eunice plant is reported to be 4900 tSWU/year. The original plan called for the capacity of 5700 tSWU/year.
URENCO is also considering expanding the capacity of the enrichment facility in Gronau, Germany.
Former US government officials and independent experts urged the US government to reconsider the Molten Chloride Reactor Experiment (MCRE), which will use 600 kg of weapon-grade HEU (93% uranium-235). The experts argue that the experiment "would undermine the longstanding U.S. policy of HEU minimization, and thereby increase risks of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism." In a letter addressed to the Secretary of Energy and the Administrator of the NNSA, the experts urge the Department of Energy "to suspend further work on the MCRE until your department's Nuclear Energy office develops an alternative LEU design."
Idaho National Laboratory acting with two commercial partners, TerraPower and the Southern Company, is planning to conduct Molten Chloride Reactor Experiment (MCRE) as part of the Molten Chloride Fast Reactor project. According to the draft environmental assessment, MCRE will use more than 600 kg of HEU as fuel. While MCFR is projected to use high-assay LEU, the experiment will use HEU as a cost-saving measure.
The HEU for the experiment will come from the Zero Power Physics Reactor facility at Idaho Lab, and the Department of Energy will retain ownership of the material. The MCRE is expected to be completed in six months.
According to industry reports, URENCO is planning a slight increase of the capacity of its enrichment facility in Gronau, Germany. The plant with the current capacity of 3700 tSWU/year will add "a few hundred thousand SWU" or few hundred tSWU/year. The timeline for the expansion is not unclear at this point.
On 17 February 2023 Japan's Federation of Electric Power Companies (FEPC) announced a new Plutonium Utilization Plan. According to the plan, Japan's eleven nuclear utilities will load mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel containing an average of 0.7 tons plutonium annually during FY 2023-2025 (0.7 tons in FY2023, zero in FY 2024, and 1.4 tons in FY2025, all at Takahama #3&4 operated by Kansai Electric Power Company). For the following two years, FEPC projects 2.1 tons of plutonium will be loaded in FY 2026 and 1.4 tons in FY 2027 but the reactors to be used are not specified.
FEPC has projected since 2020 that "about 6.6 tons/year [of plutonium will be loaded] by FY 2030," but its plans for the "next three years" have been delayed consistently since then. The goal of loading 6.6 tons of plutonium per year, which is highly unlikely to be achievable, would match the projected separation rate of the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant operating at full capacity. That would put Japan's total stock of separated plutonium on a plateau, but its stock in Japan would increase dramatically if the plutonium loaded in MOX came primarily from Japan's stock of separated plutonium in France. As of the end of 2021, Japan's total stock of separated plutonium was 45.8 tons: 36.5 tons in Europe (21.80 tons in UK and 14.76 tons in France) and 9.3 tons in Japan.
For background, see Japan's Rokkasho reprocessing plant, 25 years behind schedule, delayed again. For the history of MOX fuel shipments and use by Japan, see Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Imports/Use/Storage in Japan.
In December 2022, India's Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs, Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions & Prime Minister's Office--and the parliamentary spokesperson for the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE)--informed the upper house of the parliament that the Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR), of 500 MWe (megawatt-electrical) capacity, is now expected to be completed in 2024. Just nine months prior, on 31 March, the same spokesperson had offered 2022 as the year for completion.
As previously documented on this blog, completion of the PFBR has been repeatedly delayed. As a result, the construction period is now more than thrice the early projections. The DAE started building the PFBR in 2004. In 2005, less than a year after construction started, the director of the agency that designed the PFBR announced at a public meeting that he was "confident" that they would construct the reactor "in five years and a half", and that "four more FBRs, of 500-MWe capacity each, would be built... by 2020". With this latest delay, PFBR's project will be at least twenty years old.
The initial project cost estimate for the PFBR was 34.92 billion Rupees. That too has gone up in steps, and the last official update was in November 2019, when the same spokesperson informed the lower house of the parliament that the PFBR's projected cost was "being revised" to 68.40 Rupees. (As of 28 January 2023, the conversion rate for Indian Rupees is 81.5 per U.S. dollar but this has not been constant. However, the PFBR cost estimates are in mixed-year Rupees and so directly converting it into other currencies using one conversion rate would be misleading.)
The other breeder reactor operating in India, the Fast Breeder Test Reactor (FBTR), managed to reach its "design power capacity of 40 MWt (megawatt-thermal)" only in 2022, thirty seven years after it started operating.
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 2021. The total amount of plutonium declared as civilian was about 360 tonnes, an increase of about 5 tonnes since the end of 2020. Only about 130 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.1-25) reported owning the total of 45.8 tons of plutonium, 9.3 tons of which is in Japan (the numbers in 2020 were 46.1 tons and 8.9 tons respectively). According to the Status Report on Plutonium Management in Japan - 2021 released in July 2022, out of the 36.5 tons of plutonium abroad, 21.780 tons are in the United Kingdom and 14.760 tons are in France.
Germany (INFCIRC/549/Add.2-25) reported having no separated plutonium in the country for the second 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.3-21) 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 2021.
Switzerland (INFCIRC/549/Add.4-26) 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.5-26) reported having 99.9 tons of separated unirradiated plutonium in its custody. Of this amount, 15 tons belongs to foreign countries. It appears that almost all that plutonium - 14,760 kg - belongs to Japan. The amount of plutonium owned by France is 84.9 tons, an increase of 5.4 tonnes from previous year (79.5 tons).
In its 2021 report (INFCIRC/549/Add.6-24) declared 49.4 tons of separated plutonium, of which 4.6 tons are in MOX fuel and 44.8 tons are "held elsewhere" (most of this material is believed to be in weapon components). This amount was reported to be 44.7 tons in 2018, but went back to 44.8 tons in 2019 (as indicated by the "previous year" number in the 2020 declaration). These changes appear to reflect changes in the accounting for the material - the amount reported as "disposed as waste" was 4.6 tons in 2018, but was reverted to 4.5 tons in 2020.
China has not has not submitted its 2017-2021 reports as of 27 January 2023. 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.8-25) reported owning 116.5 tons of separated plutonium, an increase from 116.1 in 2020. In addition to that, the United Kingdom stores 24.1 tons of foreign plutonium (of which 21.780 tons is owned by Japan).
Russia (INFCIRC/549/Add.9-24) reported owning 63.5 tons of civilian plutonium, an increase of 0.1 tons from 2020.
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 5313 kg of HEU (5319 kg in 2020), of which 3760 kg (3785 kg) is unirradiated material - 804 kg (852 kg) of HEU at fuel fabrication or reprocessing plants, 60 kg (74 kg) at civil reactor sites, 2896 kg (2859 kg) at various research facilities. Also declared are 1553 kg (1533 kg) of irradiated HEU - 62 kg (79 kg) at civil reactor sites and 1491 kg (1454 kg) in other locations.
The United Kingdom reported having 734 kg of HEU (737 kg in 2020). Of this amount, 598 kg is unirradiated HEU (601 in 2020): less than 1 kg of unirradiated HEU is stored at the enrichment plants, less than 1 kg is at civil reactor sites, 420 kg - at fuel fabrication facilities, and 178 kg - at other sites (421 kg and 180 kg respectively in 2020). Irradiated HEU is located at civil reactor sites (5 kg) and other sites (132 kg).
In December 2022 US Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration and Office of Environmental Management completed the first shipment of plutonium from the K-Area of the Savannah River Site to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Mew Mexico. The amount of material in the shipment was not disclosed.
The shipment begins the implementation of the DoE "dilute and dispose" program. The program, approved in 2016, is authorized to dispose up to six tons of excess plutonium that is stored at the Savannah River Site in oxide by mixing it with an engineering substance, known as "stardust," and placing it in WIPP. In the FY2021 budget request, US administration envisioned that plutonium will be disposed at a rate of about 1.5 tons a year. For FY2022, Congress approved the request of $156 million to build glovebox capacity at SRS.
In December 2016, then U.S. Secretary of Energy announced that the United States will begin consultations with the IAEA "to monitor the dilution and packaging of up to six metric tons of surplus plutonium at the Savannah River Site." However, there are no indications that the IAEA was involved in the December 2023 shipment.