United States to down-blend HEU for tritium production

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.