Profile of World Uranium Enrichment Programs-2009

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It is generally agreed that the most difficult step in building a nuclear weapon is acquiring fissile material, either plutonium or highly enriched uranium (HEU). Plutonium is produced in a nuclear reactor, whereas HEU is produced using a uranium enrichment process. Enrichment is also an important step in the civil nuclear fuel cycle, in producing low enriched uranium (LEU) for use as fuel for nuclear reactors to generate electricity. However, the same equipment used to produce LEU for nuclear reactor fuel can also be used to produce HEU for weapons. Safeguards at an enrichment plant are the array of assurances ... continued below

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Laughter, Mark D. April 1, 2009.

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It is generally agreed that the most difficult step in building a nuclear weapon is acquiring fissile material, either plutonium or highly enriched uranium (HEU). Plutonium is produced in a nuclear reactor, whereas HEU is produced using a uranium enrichment process. Enrichment is also an important step in the civil nuclear fuel cycle, in producing low enriched uranium (LEU) for use as fuel for nuclear reactors to generate electricity. However, the same equipment used to produce LEU for nuclear reactor fuel can also be used to produce HEU for weapons. Safeguards at an enrichment plant are the array of assurances and verification techniques that ensure uranium is not diverted or enriched to HEU. There are several techniques for enriching uranium. The two most prevalent are gaseous diffusion, which uses older technology and requires a lot of energy, and gas centrifuge separation, which uses more advanced technology and is more energy efficient. Gaseous diffusion plants (GDPs) provide about 40% of current world enrichment capacity but are being phased out as newer gas centrifuge enrichment plants (GCEPs) are constructed. Estimates of current and future enrichment capacity are always approximate, due to the constant upgrades, expansions, and shutdowns occurring at enrichment plants, largely determined by economic interests. Currently, the world enrichment capacity is approximately 56 million kilogram separative work units (SWU) per year, with 22.5 million in gaseous diffusion and more than 33 million in gas centrifuge plants. Another 34 million SWU/year of capacity is under construction or planned for the near future, almost entirely using gas centrifuge separation. Other less-efficient techniques have also been used in the past, including electromagnetic and aerodynamic separations, but these are considered obsolete, at least from a commercial perspective. Laser isotope separation shows promise as a possible enrichment technique of the future but has yet to be demonstrated commercially. In the early 1980s, six countries developing gas centrifuge technology (United States, United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, and Australia) along with the International Atomic Energy Agency and the European Atomic Energy Community began developing effective safeguards techniques for GCEPs. This effort was known as the Hexapartite Safeguards Project (HSP). The HSP had the goal of maximizing safeguards effectiveness while minimizing the cost to the operator and inspectorate, and adopted several recommendations, such as the acceptance of limited-frequency unannounced access inspections in cascade halls, and the use of nondestructive assay measurements and tamper-indicating seals. While only the HSP participants initially committed to implementing all the measures of the approach, it has been used as a model for the safeguards applied to GCEPs in additional states. Uranium enrichment capacity has continued to expand on all fronts in the last few years. GCEP capacity is expanding in anticipation of the eventual shutdown of the less-efficient GDPs, the termination of the U.S.-Russia HEU blend-down program slated for 2013, and the possible resurgence of nuclear reactor construction as part of an expected 'Nuclear Renaissance'. Overall, a clear trend in the world profile of uranium enrichment plant operation is the continued movement towards multinational projects driven by commercial and economic interests. Along this vein, the safeguards community is continuing to develop new safeguards techniques and technologies that are not overly burdensome to enrichment plant operators while delivering more effective and efficient results. This report provides a snapshot overview of world enrichment capacity in 2009, including profiles of the uranium enrichment programs of individual states. It is a revision of a 2007 report on the same topic; significant changes in world enrichment programs between the previous and current reports are emphasized. It is based entirely on open-source information, which is dependent on published sources and may therefore not be completely accurate or reflect the most recent developments. Consequently, readers should not assume that information cited here has the endorsement of either ORNL or the U.S. Department of Energy. We are merely reporting what's been reported. In addition, this report briefly describes some of the safeguards techniques being used at various enrichment plants, including implementation of HSP recommendations.

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  • Report No.: ORNL/TM-2009/110
  • Grant Number: DE-AC05-00OR22725
  • DOI: 10.2172/952221 | External Link
  • Office of Scientific & Technical Information Report Number: 952221
  • Archival Resource Key: ark:/67531/metadc930578

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  • April 1, 2009

Added to The UNT Digital Library

  • Nov. 13, 2016, 7:26 p.m.

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  • Nov. 21, 2016, 6:52 p.m.

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Laughter, Mark D. Profile of World Uranium Enrichment Programs-2009, report, April 1, 2009; [Tennessee]. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc930578/: accessed September 23, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.