Nav: Home

Russia's use and stockpiles of highly enriched uranium pose significant nuclear risks

September 13, 2017

PRINCETON, N.J. -- Russia currently holds the world's largest stockpile of highly enriched uranium, a nuclear weapon-usable material, posing significant nuclear security risks, according to a recent report issued by the International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM), a group based at Princeton University and made up of nuclear experts from 16 countries.

The report, "The Use of Highly Enriched Uranium as Fuel in Russia," provides unprecedented details of the military and civilian use of highly enriched uranium in Russia -- the only country to produce highly enriched uranium as an export.

Russia's stockpile of highly enriched uranium is estimated to be about 680 tons, and as of 2017, Russia is estimated to use about 8.5 tons of highly enriched uranium annually, a large fraction of which is weapon-grade material. Likewise, Russia currently operates more highly enriched uranium facilities than the rest of the world combined, creating substantial nuclear security risks.

"There has been a great deal of progress in reducing the number of locations where highly enriched uranium can be found outside of Russia. As a result, Russia has become an increasingly important part of the remaining problem," said Frank N. von Hippel, founding co-chair of IPFM and senior research physicist and professor of public and international affairs, emeritus, at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson of Public and International Affairs.

The report was edited by Pavel Podvig, a researcher at Princeton's Program on Science and Global Security, with contributions by six other leading Russian experts.

In addition to its stockpiles, Russia also has a large number of highly enriched uranium facilities -- 58 nuclear reactors and assemblies -- meaning that substantial amounts of highly enriched uranium are moving through the fuel cycle. Highly enriched uranium poses special concerns, the researchers wrote, as it can be used relatively easily in simple nuclear explosive devices by states with limited nuclear weapon expertise or even by non-state actors. Over the past several decades -- and especially since 9/11 -- there have been high-level international initiatives to address these risks, especially for highly enriched uranium for civilian uses, like reactors used for nuclear research.

"Reducing the use of highly enriched uranium in research reactors is a complex but solvable technical task, and promising new fuels are under development in the United States, Europe, and Russia," said Alexander Glaser, co-director of the Program on Science and Global Security, co-chair of the IPFM and associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and international affairs at Princeton.

While Russia has been active in returning its highly enriched uranium from research facilities abroad and has closed down some domestic highly enriched uranium facilities, it has not made highly enriched uranium minimization a priority, according to the report. On the contrary, Russia is working on a number of new projects that involve the use of highly enriched uranium and, in 2012, resumed production of highly enriched uranium for export.

"Russia's participation is essential for the success of the global effort to reduce the risks associated with highly enriched uranium use," said Podvig. "Russia has the ability to make a strong contribution to the international highly enriched uranium minimization effort. This would require launching a new round of international cooperation that would involve Russia's technical community in developing a new strategy for reducing the use of highly enriched uranium."

Securing Russia's commitment to this goal requires development of a comprehensive global highly enriched uranium minimization strategy, according to the report. Given the variety of applications for highly enriched uranium worldwide, such a strategy should include a consistent approach to the use of highly enriched uranium to fuel high-performance civilian reactors, defense-related research facilities, and naval reactors. The report concludes that, eventually, this effort also must address the material security risks associated with highly enriched uranium stocks for weapons.

Additional information can be found in two already published reports. Von Hippel authored an earlier IPFM report, "Banning the Production of Highly Enriched Uranium," and Glaser was a contributor to the 2016 U.S. National Academies report, "Reducing the Use of Highly Enriched Uranium in Civilian Research Reactors."
-end-
The International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM) was established in January 2006. The IPFM's mission is to develop and support practical and achievable initiatives to end the production of and secure, consolidate and reduce stockpiles of highly enriched uranium and separated plutonium, the key ingredients in nuclear weapons. Its 30 members are technical and policy experts and former diplomats, currently from 16 countries. Its research and administration base is in Princeton University's Program on Science and Global Security, which is part of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

EDITORS/REPORTERS:

Contact B. Rose Kelly for an advance electronic copy of the report.

Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs

Related Nuclear Articles:

US nuclear regulators greatly underestimate potential for nuclear disaster
The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission relied on faulty analysis to justify its refusal to adopt a critical measure for protecting Americans from nuclear-waste fires at dozens of reactor sites around the country, according to an article in the May 26 issue of Science magazine.
Visualizing nuclear radiation
Extraordinary decontamination efforts are underway in areas affected by the 2011 nuclear accidents in Japan.
New path suggested for nuclear fusion
Scientists at Rice University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Chile offer a glimpse into a possible new path toward the production of energy through nuclear fusion.
Physics: Toward a practical nuclear pendulum
Researchers from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) Munich have, for the first time, measured the lifetime of an excited state in the nucleus of an unstable element.
Researchers model the way into a nuclear future
The main type of nuclear fuel is the uranium oxide pellet composition.
Nuclear CSI: Noninvasive procedure could identify criminal nuclear activity
Determining if an individual has handled nuclear materials is a challenge national defense agencies currently face.
A new method to help solve the problem of nuclear waste
The article, published recently in Open Chemistry may lead to the development of a process to remove uranium from wastewater at the front-end of the nuclear fuel cycle, or even extracting natural uranium from sea water.
Nuclear puzzle may be clue to fifth force
In a new paper, University of California, Riverside theoretical physicist Flip Tanedo and his collaborators have made new progress towards unraveling a mystery in the beryllium nucleus that may be evidence for a fifth force of nature.
New approach to nuclear structure, freely available
The atomic nucleus is highly complex. Understanding this complexity often requires a tremendous amount of computational power.
Nuclear physics' interdisciplinary progress
The theoretical view of the structure of the atom nucleus is not carved in stone.

Related Nuclear Reading:

Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety
by Eric Schlosser (Author)

**The documentary Command and Control, directed by Robert Kenner, finds its origins in Eric Schlosser's book and continues to explore the little-known history of the management and safety concerns of America's nuclear aresenal.**

The documentary will air on PBS's American Experience on January 10th. 


A myth-shattering exposé of America’s nuclear weapons


Famed investigative journalist Eric Schlosser digs deep to uncover secrets about the management of America’s nuclear arsenal. A groundbreaking account of accidents, near misses,... View Details


Astute Class Nuclear Submarine: 2010 to date (Owners' Workshop Manual)
by Jonathan Gates (Author)

The Astute-class is the largest, most advanced and most powerful attack submarine ever operated by the Royal Navy, combining world-leading sensors, design and weaponry in a versatile vessel. The submarines are nuclear-propelled and fuelled by a nuclear reactor powerful enough to supply a city the size of Southampton. Its advanced technology means the submarines will never need to be refuelled. They employ the latest technology such as the Sonar 2076 that detects the sound of enemy submarines using the largest number of hydrophones ever fitted to a submarine. Linked with powerful onboard... View Details


The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner
by Daniel Ellsberg (Author)

Shortlisted for the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction
Finalist for The California Book Award in Nonfiction
The San Francisco Chronicle’s Best of 2017 List
In These Times “Best Books of 2017”
Huffington Post’s Ten Excellent December Books List
LitHub’s “Five Books Making News This Week”


From the legendary whistle-blower who revealed the Pentagon Papers, an eyewitness exposé of the dangers of America's Top Secret, seventy-year-long nuclear policy that... View Details


U.S. Armed Forces Nuclear, Biological And Chemical Survival Manual
by Dick Couch (Author)

Military experts teach you how to survive an attack on American soil, from North Korean missiles to weaponized smallpox

North Korean nukes. Dirty bombs in train stations. Chemical warfare. Americans have more reasons than ever to be afraid. If a nuclear missile strikes, will you know what to do? If a nerve agent is released in your subway system or office building, will you be safe? The U.S. Armed Forces Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Survival Manual gives you the information you need to survive a terrorist attack. It contains the best practices of all the United... View Details


The Logic of American Nuclear Strategy: Why Strategic Superiority Matters (Bridging the Gap)
by Matthew Kroenig (Author)

For decades, the reigning scholarly wisdom about nuclear weapons policy has been that the United States only needs the ability to absorb an enemy nuclear attack and still be able to respond with a devastating counterattack. So long as the US, or any other nation, retains such an assured retaliation capability, no sane leader would intentionally launch a nuclear attack against it, and nuclear deterrence will hold. According to this theory, possessing more weapons than necessary for a second-strike capability is illogical.

This argument is reasonable, but, when compared to the empirical... View Details


Nuclear War Survival Skills: Lifesaving Nuclear Facts and Self-Help Instructions
by Cresson H. Kearny (Author), Don Mann (Introduction), Edward Teller (Introduction), Dr. Eugene P. Wigner (Introduction)

A field-tested guide to surviving a nuclear attack, written by a revered civil defense expert.

This edition of Cresson H. Kearny’s iconic Nuclear War Survival Skills (originally published in 1979), updated by Kearny himself in 1987 and again in 2001, offers expert advice for ensuring your family’s safety should the worst come to pass. Chock-full of practical instructions and preventative measures, Nuclear War Survival Skills is based on years of meticulous scientific research conducted by Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Featuring a new introduction by... View Details


Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters: From the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima
by James Mahaffey (Author)

A gripping narrative of nuclear mishaps and meltdowns around the globe, all of which have proven pivotal to the advancement of nuclear science.

From the moment radiation was discovered in the late nineteenth century, nuclear science has had a rich history of innovative scientific exploration and discovery, coupled with mistakes, accidents, and downright disasters.

Mahaffey, a long-time advocate of continued nuclear research and nuclear energy, looks at each incident in turn and analyzes what happened and why, often discovering where scientists went wrong... View Details


Fallout: Disasters, Lies, and the Legacy of the Nuclear Age
by Fred Pearce (Author)

An investigation into our complicated 7-decade-long relationship with nuclear technology, from the bomb to nuclear accidents to nuclear waste.

From Hiroshima to Chernobyl, Fukushima to the growing legacy of lethal radioactive waste, humanity's struggle to conquer atomic energy is rife with secrecy, deceit, human error, blatant disregard for life, short-sighted politics, and fear. Fallout is an eye-opening odyssey through the first eight decades of this struggle and the radioactive landscapes it has left behind. We are, he finds, forever torn between technological hubris... View Details


Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe
by Serhii Plokhy (Author)

From a preeminent historian of Eastern Europe, the definitive history of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster

On the morning of April 26, 1986, Europe witnessed the worst nuclear disaster in history: the explosion of a reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Soviet Ukraine. Dozens died of radiation poisoning, fallout contaminated half the continent, and thousands fell ill.

In Chernobyl, Serhii Plokhy draws on new sources to tell the dramatic stories of the firefighters, scientists, and soldiers who heroically extinguished the nuclear inferno. He lays bare the... View Details


Nuclear Physics: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
by Frank Close (Author)

Nuclear physics began long before the identification of fundamental particles, with J. J. Thomson's discovery of the electron at the end of the 19th century, which implied the existence of a positive charge in the atom to make it neutral. In this Very Short Introduction Frank Close gives an account of how this area of physics has progressed, including the recognition of how heavy nuclei are built up in the cores of stars and in supernovae, the identification of quarks and gluons, and the development of quantum chromodynamics (QCD). Exploring key concepts such as the stability of... View Details

Best Science Podcasts 2018

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2018. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Attention Please
In an age of constant information and infinite distractions, how can we pay more attention to our ... attention? This hour, TED speakers explore the battle for our awareness during the digital age. Guests include sociologist Zeynep Tufekci, podcast host Manoush Zomorodi, neuroscientist Amishi Jha, designer Tristan Harris, and computer scientist Jaron Lanier.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#475 Mother Nature is Trying to Kill You (Rebroadcast)
This week, we're learning how deadly and delightful our planet and its ecosystem can be. We're joined by biologist Dan Riskin, co-host of Discovery Canada's Daily Planet, to talk about his book "Mother Nature Is Trying to Kill You: a Lively Tour Through the Dark Side of the Natural World." And we'll talk to astronomer and author Phil Plait about Science Getaways, his company that offers educational vacation experiences for science lovers.