New IPFM report: Banning the production of highly enriched uranium

The International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM) has released a new research report, Banning the Production of Highly Enriched Uranium (PDF).

The long sought after Fissile Material (Cutoff) Treaty or FM(C)T would ban the production of HEU and plutonium for weapons. But HEU also has several non-weapon uses, all of which involve nuclear reactors. Despite the Nuclear Security Summits and other efforts to minimize HEU use, as of late 2015, there were over 150 nuclear-powered submarines and ships - more than half belonging to the United States, that use HEU as fuel in their propulsion reactors. There also were about 100 research reactors, half of them in Russia, and two tritium production reactors and a breeder reactor, also in Russia, fueled with HEU. Finally, HEU neutron "targets" were being used for medical radioisotope production in several countries. Altogether, the equivalent of about 7 tons of weapon-grade HEU are used for these purposes annually, sufficient for about 100 first-generation gun-type nuclear weapons.

The report analyses the non-weapon uses of HEU: for naval reactor fuel, tritium and medical isotope production, as well as in breeder and research reactors. It shows that for all of these applications a transition over at most a few decades to LEU or other alternatives is feasible. The existing stockpiles of HEU, stored mainly in the nuclear-weapon states, are more than sufficient for non-weapon needs during the transition period. The report finds that an international agreement to ban the production of HEU for all purposes could be pursued.

The report was written by Frank von Hippel of Princeton University's Program on Science and Global Security and the IPFM.