Russia is set to produce new highly-enriched uranium

Rosatom's TVEL company announced the plan to open production of highly-enriched uranium at the Electrochemical Plant in Zelenogorsk. The head of the company, Yuri Olenin, was quoted as saying that "the need to produce HEU is linked to a number of new projects, in particular, related to icebreakers." Also, TVEL referred to the potential use of HEU in fuel of fast neutron reactors.

It seems likely that the plan will lead to production of new highly-enriched uranium with enrichment of more than 20% of U-235.

Russia discontinued production of HEU for weapons in 1989 and was believed to rely on its substantial stock of HEU produced in the past - more than 700 tonnes - to satisfy its current needs in HEU for research, naval, and transport reactor fuel. However, most of this HEU has been produced from uranium recovered from irradiated fuel of plutonium production reactors and therefore might not be suitable for some applications.

Russian icebreakers are believed to use uranium with enrichment from 36% to 90%. The new generation of icebreakers, however, is expected to use LEU - uranium enriched to less than 20% of U-235. Production of LEU for these icebreakers might still require a dedicated production line, for the enrichment facilities are normally configured to produce uranium with enrichment of less than 5%.

If the new production line is to produce enriched uranium for fast neutron reactor fuel, then the enrichment level is likely to exceed 20%. Traditionally, Russia's large fast reactors, BN-350 and BN-600, used HEU fuel with enrichment levels of 17, 21, and 26%. The new BN-800 reactor, which is expected to begin operations after 2014, will use HEU fuel in its core.