Rabu, 25 September 2013

RUSSIA...??? WHY RUSSIA...INTERVENT NUKE POWER USA...??>> I THINK ITS DOES NOT MAKE SENSE..?? MAY BE SOME PROVOCATIVE IN ANY FIELDS THAT INTELIGENTS CAN PLAY...THE GAME..??>> ..The HEU-LEU agreement (Megatons to Megawatts Program) signed in 1993 supposed downblending of 500 tons of Soviet-made military grade highly enriched uranium (HEU) (equivalent to 20,000 nuclear warheads) into low-enriched uranium (LEU) to produce fuel for American nuclear power plants out of it. ..>> ......... Russia has been supplying US nuclear power plants with fuel for a dumping price since 1995. But with the HEU-LEU agreement coming to an end, America’s nuclear power generation industry is likely to face a sharp fuel price surge and shortage....>> ... On the off chance the Pentagon has some secret plutonium stash, it wouldn’t last long, simply because the US stopped its own plutonium production in 1988. On top of all plutonium-238 half life is only about 87.7 years (for other plutonium isotopes it could be thousands or millions of years), so the metal produced a quarter of a century ago has partly lost its energy potential already. The US Atomic Energy Act forbids NASA from manufacturing plutonium-238 on its own, so starting from 2001 the space agency has been pressing the US authorities to restore Pu-238 production. The program estimated between $85 and $125 million is developing with a slow pace with financing of only $10 million in 2013. The program would imply using two reactors, the High Flux Isotope Reactor at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee and the Advanced Test Reactor west of Idaho Falls, and is supposed to deliver 1.5-2kg of plutonium annually starting from 2017. ..>>>

USEC Signs Multi-Year Contract with Russia’s TENEX for Low Enriched Uranium Supply


-Contract Builds Upon an Existing Supply Arrangement with TENEX-; -Ensures Diverse Mix of Supply Sources While USEC Continues to Deploy Its American Centrifuge Project-
Wed, 03/23/2011
 
BETHESDA, Md. – USEC Inc. (NYSE: USU) has signed a multi-year contract with Russia’s Techsnabexport (TENEX) for the 10-year supply of low enriched uranium (LEU) beginning in 2013 that will build on USEC’s long-term relationship with TENEX. USEC and TENEX began working together in 1993 under the Megatons to Megawatts™ program. The new contract will provide USEC with continued access to Russian enriched uranium, which currently constitutes about one-half of USEC’s supply source.

USEC and TENEX signed the contract today in Washington, D.C. Under the terms of the contract, the supply of LEU to USEC will begin in 2013 and ramp up until it reaches a level in 2015 that is approximately one-half the level currently supplied by TENEX to USEC under the Megatons to Megawatts program with the mutual option to increase the quantities up to the same level as that program. Unlike the Megatons to Megawatts program, the quantities supplied under the new contract will come from Russia’s commercial enrichment activities rather than from downblending of excess Russian weapons material.

“After safety, one of USEC’s top priorities is to meet our customers’ long-term needs for enriched uranium, and our decision to enter into this contract with TENEX is further evidence of our commitment and ability to meet those needs,” said John K. Welch, president and CEO of USEC.

“We believe this new contract will further strengthen our important relationship with TENEX. Over the past two decades this relationship has supported our efforts to provide long-term reliable supplies of enriched uranium to our customers while maintaining a strong domestic production capacity based on U.S. technology,” Welch said.

“USEC remains fully committed to deploying our American Centrifuge technology in our new plant in Ohio and extending the operations of our Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Kentucky. This contract complements those ongoing activities as we maintain our market position during this important transition period.”

USEC will deliver the enriched uranium supplied under this contract to USEC’s customers under its portfolio of contracts. Under the quantitative limitations on imports of Russian enriched uranium in the United States through 2020, USEC will deliver a portion of the enriched uranium to U.S. utilities with most of the enriched uranium to be delivered to USEC’s customers outside of the United States in both existing and emerging markets.

The new contract assures USEC continued access to an important part of its existing supply mix, which complements USEC’s ongoing efforts to deploy the American Centrifuge Plant in Piketon, Ohio, using advanced U.S. centrifuge technology. With this contract in place, USEC will continue to be one of the world’s leading suppliers of enriched uranium, while transitioning to new domestic production from the American Centrifuge Plant.

This new contract does not affect USEC’s domestic production of enriched uranium or its highest priority objective to deploy the American Centrifuge technology. USEC’s plant in Paducah, Ky., remains USEC’s key supply source today. USEC continues to make progress in obtaining a $2 billion loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy and additional financing to support the deployment of the American Centrifuge Plant. However, by supplementing its domestic capacity with continued access to Russian LEU, USEC can assure customers that its supply mix will remain sufficiently robust to meet their needs throughout the transition to the American Centrifuge Plant.

Deliveries under the contract are expected to continue through 2022. USEC will purchase the separative work units (SWU) contained in the LEU and deliver natural uranium to TENEX for the LEU’s uranium component. The pricing terms for SWU under the contract are proprietary but are based on a mix of market-related price points and other factors.

The effectiveness of the new contract between TENEX and USEC is subject to approval of the Russian State Corporation for Atomic Energy (ROSATOM) and completion of administrative arrangements between the U.S. and Russian governments under the agreement for cooperation in nuclear energy between the United States and the Russian Federation (the Russia 123 Agreement) which, among other things, provides the framework for the return to Russia of natural uranium delivered by USEC to TENEX. USEC anticipates that these implementing arrangements will be completed in 2011.

Following approval of the new supply contract by ROSATOM, USEC and TENEX expect to conduct a feasibility study to explore the possible deployment of an enrichment plant in the United States employing Russian centrifuge technology. As part of the feasibility study, ROSATOM, USEC and TENEX will review international agreements, government approvals, licensing, financing, market demand and commercial arrangements. Any decision to proceed with such a project would depend on the results of the feasibility study and would be subject to further agreement between the parties and their respective governments. In any event, such a project would not be deployed until after completion of the American Centrifuge project. This initiative is part of USEC’s strategic approach in serving its customers in the uranium enrichment market.

USEC Inc., a global energy company, is a leading supplier of enriched uranium fuel for commercial nuclear power plants.

The Megatons to Megawatts Program is a unique, commercially financed government-industry partnership in which bomb-grade uranium from dismantled Russian nuclear warheads is being recycled into LEU used to produce fuel for American nuclear power plants. USEC, as executive agent for the U.S. government, and TENEX, acting for the Russian government, implement this 20-year, $8 billion program at no cost to taxpayers. This program is on track to complete the downblending of the equivalent of 20,000 nuclear warheads into commercial nuclear fuel by the program’s conclusion at the end of 2013.

Forward-Looking Statements

This news release contains “forward-looking statements” within the meaning of Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 – that is, statements related to future events. In this context, forward-looking statements may address our expected future business and financial performance, and often contain words such as “expects,” “anticipates,” “intends,” “plans,” “believes,” “will” and other words of similar meaning. Forward-looking statements by their nature address matters that are, to different degrees, uncertain. For USEC, particular risks and uncertainties that could cause our actual future results to differ materially from those expressed in our forward-looking statements include, but are not limited to: risks related to the effectiveness of USEC’s new supply contract with TENEX, including the receipt of approval of ROSATOM and completion of administrative agreements between the U.S. and Russian governments under the cooperation agreement that are required for the new contract to take effect; uncertainty regarding the results of any feasibility study conducted regarding the possible deployment of an enrichment plant in the United States employing Russian centrifuge technology; risks related to the deployment of the American Centrifuge technology, including risks related to performance, cost, schedule and financing; our success in obtaining a loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy (“DOE”) for the American Centrifuge Plant, including our ability to address the technical and financial concerns raised by DOE and the timing of any loan guarantee; our ability to reach agreement with DOE on acceptable terms of a conditional commitment, including credit subsidy cost, and our ability to meet any required conditions to funding; our ability to obtain additional financing beyond the $2 billion of DOE loan guarantee funding for which we have applied, including our success in obtaining Japanese export credit agency financing of up to $1 billion; the impact of the demobilization of the American Centrifuge project and uncertainty regarding our ability to remobilize the project and the potential for termination of the project; our ability to meet the November 2011 financing milestone and other milestones under the June 2002 DOE-USEC Agreement; restrictions in our credit facility that may impact our operating and financial flexibility and spending on the American Centrifuge project; risks related to the completion of the remaining two phases of the three-phased strategic investment by Toshiba Corporation and Babcock & Wilcox Investment Company, including our ability to satisfy the significant closing conditions in the securities purchase agreement governing the transactions and the impact of a failure to consummate the transactions on our business and prospects; uncertainty regarding the cost of electric power used at our gaseous diffusion plant; the economics of extended Paducah plant operations, including our ability to negotiate an acceptable power arrangement and our ability to obtain a contract to enrich DOE’s depleted uranium; our dependence on deliveries of LEU from Russia under the Russian Contract and on a single production facility; pricing trends and demand in the uranium and enrichment markets and their impact on our profitability; changes in U.S. government priorities and the availability of government funding, including loan guarantees; the impact of government regulation by DOE and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission; the competitive environment for our products and services; changes in the nuclear energy industry; the impact of the recent natural disaster in Japan on the nuclear industry and our revenues and results of operations and prospects; and other risks and uncertainties discussed in our filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, including our annual report on Form 10-K and quarterly reports on Form 10-Q, which are available on our website at www.usec.com. We do not undertake to update our forward-looking statements except as required by law.

http://www.usec.com/news/usec-signs-multi-year-contract-russia%E2%80%99s-tenex-low-enriched-uranium-supply

Contact:

Media: Paul Jacobson (301) 564-3399
Investors: Steve Wingfield (301) 564-3354
 
 
RUSSIAN-U.S. HEU AGREEMENT
[Russian-U.S. agreement concerning the disposition of highly enriched uranium extracted from nuclear weapons]

The Governments of United States of America and the Russian Federation, hereafter referred to as the Parties,

Desiring to arrange the safe and prompt disposition for peaceful purposes of highly enriched uranium resulting from the dismantlement of nuclear weapons in Russia, bearing in mind existing agreements in the area of arms control and disarmament, the reduction of nuclear weapons in accordance with existing agreements in the area of arms control  and disarmament,

Reaffirming their commitment to ensure that the development and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes are carried out under arrangements that will further the objectives of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons of July 1, 1968, Affirming their commitment to ensure that nuclear material transferred for peaceful purposes pursuant to this Agreement will comply with all applicable non-proliferation, material accounting and control, physical protection, and environmental requirements. 

Have agreed as follows:

ARTICLE I: PURPOSE
The Parties shall cooperate in order to achieve the following objectives:

1. The conversion as soon as practicable of highly enriched uranium (HEU) resulting from dismantlement of nuclear weapons in Russia extracted from nuclear weapons resulting from the reduction of nuclear weapons pursuant to arms control agreements  and other commitments of the parties which is currently estimated at approximately 

500 metric tons in the Russian Federation, having an average assay of 90 percent  or greater of the uranium isotope 235 into low enriched uranium (LEU) for use as fuel in commercial nuclear reactors. For purposes of this Agreement, LEU shall mean uranium enriched to less than 20 percent in the isotope 235; and

2. The technology developed in the Russian Federation for conversion of HEU resulting from the reduction of nuclear weapons in the Russian Federation may be used for conversion of United States HEU in the United States of America; and

3. The establishment of appropriate measures to fulfill the non-proliferation, physical security protection, nuclear material accounting and control, and  environmental requirements of the Parties with respect to HEU and LEU  subject to this Agreement.

ARTICLE II: IMPLEMENTING CONTRACTS AND AGREEMENTS

1.  The Parties, through their Executive Agents, shall within twelve six months from entry into force of this Agreement seek to enter into an initial implementing contract to accomplish the objectives set forth in Article I of this Agreement. 

The Parties may conclude additional implementing contracts or agreements pursuant to his Agreement, as required. For any purchase, the Executive Agents shall negotiate terms (including price), which shall be subject to approval by the Parties.

2. It is the intent of the Parties that the initial implementing contract shall provide for, inter alias:

i. The purchase by the United States Executive Agent of HEU, conversion of such HEU to LEU. LEU converted from HEU at facilities in the Russian Federation and sale of 


the LEU for commercial purposes. and/ or the purchase by the United States  Executive Agent of LEU converted from HEU at facilities in Russia and sale of such LEU for commercial purposes; The United States will provide information to the Russian Federation on all commercial disposition of such LEU;

ii. Initial delivery of HEU or LEU converted from HEU resulting from the dismantlement of nuclear weapons in Russia by October 1993, Initial delivery of LEU converted from HEU extracted from nuclear weapons resulting  from the reduction of nuclear weapons pursuant to arms control agreements and other commitments of the parties by October 1993, if possible;

iii. Conversion of no less than 10 metric tons of HEU having an average assay of 90 percent or greater of the uranium isotope 235 in each of the first five years, and, in each year thereafter, conversion of no less than 30 metric tons of HEU having an average assay of 90 percent or greater of the uranium isotope 235; however, specific amounts will be stipulated in the first and subsequent implementing contracts;

iv. The participation of the U.S. private sector and of Russian enterprises;

v. The allocation among the United States of America, private sector firms of the United States of America, the Russian Federation, and Russian enterprises of any proceeds or costs arising out of activities undertaken pursuant to any implementing  contract;

vi. The use by the Russian Federation side of a portion of the proceeds from the sale of HEU or LEU converted from HEU for the conversion of defense enterprises, enhancing the safety of nuclear power plants, environmental clean-up of polluted areas and the construction and operation of facilities in the Russian Federation for the conversion of HEU to LEU, 

vii. By agreement of the Parties an equivalent amount of HEU can substitute for the corresponding amount of LEU planned for purchase by the United States Executive Agent. 

ARTICLE III: EXECUTIVE AGENTS 
Each Party shall designate an executive agent to implement this Agreement. For the United States side of America the executive agent shall be the Department of Energy hereinafter referred to as DOE. For the Russian side Federation the Executive Agent  shall be the Ministry of the Russian Federation of Atomic Energy. 

After consultation with the other Party, either Party has the right to change its  executive agent upon 30 days written notice to the other Party. 

If a governmental corporation is established under United States law to manage  the uranium enrichment enterprise of the Department of Energy, it is the intention  of the United States Government to designate that corporation as the Executive Agent  for the United States side.

ARTICLE IV: 

PRIORITY OF AGREEMENT. 

In case of any inconsistency between this Agreement and any implementing contracts or agreements, the provisions of this Agreement shall prevail.

ARTICLE V:

ADDITIONAL MEASURES

1.The Executive Agent of the Russian Federation shall ensure that the quality of HEU LEU derived from HEU subject to this Agreement is such that it is convertible to LEU usable in commercial reactors. Specifications shall be agreed upon in the Process of negotiating the initial and subsequent implementing contracts.

2. The conversion of HEU subject to this Agreement shall commence as soon as possible after the entry into force of the initial implementing contract.

3. The Parties shall, to the extent practicable, seek to arrange for more rapid conversion of HEU to LEU than that provided for in Article II (2) (iii).


4. The United States of America shall use HEU and LEU acquired pursuant to this  Agreement and its implementing contracts and agreements, when subject to United  States jurisdiction and control, for peaceful purposes only. 

5. HEU and LEU acquired by the United States of America pursuant to this Agreement, and implementing contracts and agreements related to it, shall be subject to  safeguards in accordance with the November 18, 1977 Agreement between the United States of America and the International Atomic Energy  Agency (IAEA) for the  Application of Safeguards in connection with the Treaty for the Non-Proliferation  of  Nuclear Weapons of July 1, 1968.

6. The Parties shall maintain physical protection of HEU and LEU subject to this Agreement. Such protection shall, at a minimum, provide protection comparable to the recommendation set forth in IAEA document INFCIRC/225/REV.2  concerning the physical protection of nuclear material.

7. If the Parties enter into an agreement for cooperation concerning the peaceful  uses of nuclear energy, nuclear material acquired by the United States of  America pursuant to this Agreement and its implementing contracts and  agreements, when subject to U.S. jurisdiction or control, shall be subject to  the terms and conditions of that Agreement for cooperation.

8. The activities of the United States Government of America under this Agreement,  or any implementing contract or agreement shall be subject to the availability  of United States Government funds. 

9. In the event the United States Government does not have funds available  for implementation of this Agreement, the Executive Agent of the Russian Federation  reserves the option to obtain funding for implementation of this Agreement from any private U.S. company. 

10. Prior to the conclusion of any implementing contract, the Parties shall establish transparency measures to ensure that the objectives of this Agreement are met, including provisions for nuclear material accounting and control and access,  from the time that HEU is made available for conversion until it is  converted into LEU. Specific transparency measures shall be established  in the same time frame as the negotiation of the initial implementing contract,  and shall be executed by a separate agreement. 

11. Prior to the conclusion of any implementing contract, the Parties shall agree on  appropriate governing provisions for entry and exit, liability, and status of personnel, exemptions for taxes and other duties, and applicable law
.
12. The Executive Agent of the United States shall use the LEU converted from HEU in
such a manner so as to minimize disruptions in the market and maximize the overall economic benefit for both Parties. 

This Agreement shall have no effect on contracts between the Russian Federation  Russian enterprises and United States companies for the delivery of uranium  products which are currently in force and consistent with United States and Russian law.

13.This Agreement places no limitations on the right of the Russian Federation to dispose of LEU derived from HEU resulting from dismantlement of nuclear  weapons in Russia extracted from nuclear weapons resulting from the reduction of nuclear weapons pursuant to arms control agreements and  other commitments of the Parties beyond the specific commitments  set forth herein. 

ARTICLE VI: 
ENTRY INTO FORCE, DURATION AND AMENDMENTS

1. This Agreement shall enter into force upon signature and shall remain in force for twenty years until the full amount of HEU provided for in paragraph 1  of Article 1 is converted into LEU, delivered, and supplied to commercial  customers.

The duration of this Agreement may be extended by the written agreement  of the Parties. 

2. Each Party may propose amendments to this Agreement. 
Agreed amendments shall enter into force upon signature and shall remain in force so long as this Agreement remains in force. 

Each Party shall have the right to terminate this Agreement upon 12 months written notification to the other Party .

Done at Washington this 18th day of February 1993, in duplicate in the  English and Russian languages, both texts being equally authentic.

For the United States of America: William Burns 
For the Russian Federation: Viktor Mikhailov  Printer Friendly Version  

Uranium Diet: US Nuclear Power Industry 
Could Face Fuel Shortage  
By Ivan Fursov  
http://www.countercurrents.org/fursov250913.htm  
25 September, 2013 
 
An aerial view of the Limerick Generating Station, a nuclear power plant
in Pottstown, Pennsylvania (AFP Photo / Stan Honda)
 
 
Russia has been supplying US nuclear power plants with fuel for a dumping price since 1995. But with the HEU-LEU agreement coming to an end, America’s nuclear power generation industry is likely to face a sharp fuel price surge and shortage.

The HEU-LEU agreement (Megatons to Megawatts Program) signed in 1993 supposed downblending of 500 tons of Soviet-made military grade highly enriched uranium (HEU) (equivalent to 20,000 nuclear warheads) into low-enriched uranium (LEU) to produce fuel for American nuclear power plants out of it. 

The program supplied up to 40 percent of nuclear fuel for America’s 104 nuclear reactors (America’s 65 nuclear power plants generate over 19 percent of electric power in the country) and appeared to be extremely profitable. For example in 1993-2009, Russia raised a mere $8.8 billion by selling hundreds of tons of highly-enriched uranium (HEU), allegedly at a fixed price lower than enriched uranium production costs at the time. 

Still, Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom has put the money ($12 billion for the HEU-LEU agreement in total) to good use, investing in fundamental research and infrastructure, in particular into innovative uranium enrichment technology and fuel assembly fabrication. 

Today Rosatom possesses cutting edge gaseous centrifuge enrichment industry concentrated at four facilities in Siberia and the Urals, making up to 40 percent of the world enrichment capacities. 

The HEU-LEU agreement is due to end in November 2013 with the final contracted tons of nuclear fuel delivered to the American customer, United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC). 

The US has the highest number of commercial nuclear power plants and is the biggest consumer of nuclear fuel in the world. 

To meet the high internal consumption the US government has not only been buying uranium fuel from Russia, but also has been converting its own nuclear warheads into power plant fuel. In 1996, the US government declared 174.3 tons of military HEU as surplus and recycled it into LEU fuel. 

The US stopped producing HEU back in 1964, when it reached the maximum of 30,000 nuclear warheads in its possession, while Russia ceased to produce it in 1988, when the USSR already possessed 44,000 nuclear warheads. For some time the USEC continued producing HEU for submarine nuclear reactors, but ceased this kind of production in 1992. Production of military-grade plutonium has also been stopped in both the US (in 1988) and Russia (in 1994). 

Both France and the UK stopped HEU production in 1990s, with reportedly only two countries in the world, India and Pakistan, still producing it for internal military needs. 

With an estimated 2,000 tons of highly-enriched uranium produced by all members of the ‘nuclear club’ ever, at least a third of the metal has already been recycled into fuel. Since no nuclear-capable country is willing to disarm altogether, the process of downblending is finite. 

While Rosatom has been successfully developing in every direction over recent years, the USEC continues to rely on outdated and extremely costly gas-diffusion enrichment technology despite multibillion-dollar investments into infrastructure. The corporation’s gaseous centrifuge enrichment project at American Centrifuge Plant at Piketon, West Virginia, worth $3 billion, is suffering constant technical problems and is far from up-and-running at full capacity. 

In 2012, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that Moscow is not going to extend the so-called Nunn–Lugar program (Cooperative Threat Reduction [CTR] Program), within the framework of which the Megatons to Megawatts Program has been operating for national security reasons. 

To keep up with the changes in 2011 USEC signed a contract with Russia’s TENEX for 10-year supply of low-enriched uranium starting in 2013. By 2015, the level of LEU supply to USEC is expected to reach half the original level of TENEX’s supplies. However, the quantities supplied under the new contract will come from Russia’s commercial enrichment activities, meaning the enriched uranium will be sold to the US for a considerably higher international market price. Of course, this could have an impact on internal US electric power generation and consumption. 

Fast reactors and closed nuclear fuel cycle
Meanwhile, Russia is the only country that has developed industrial scale fast-neutron nuclear reactors, the so-called breeder reactor technology that enables to use a wider range of radioactive elements as nuclear fuel and - besides producing electric energy - generating more fissile material that can be used as nuclear fuel than it consumes. This brings us to the closed nuclear fuel cycle, a long-lasting dream of the nuclear energy industry that one day might come true. 

With the BN-600 breeder reactor (600 megawatt) at Russia’s Beloyarskaya nuclear power plant running since 1980, the assembly of the next generation BN-800 breeder reactor (880 megawatts) at the same site is set to be finished by the end of 2013 and operational in September 2014. 

Russian physicists have already elaborated a next step for the revolutionary technology, a BN-1200 breeder reactor that is set to be assembled at Beloyarskaya nuclear power plant by 2020. 

Overall eight BN-1200 breeder reactors are expected to be constructed by 2030, marking the dawn of a new era of nuclear energy power generation – a truly ‘green’ and ecologically secure closed nuclear fuel cycle. 

Plutonium hunger 

Space exploration and plutonium-238 are two things inexorably associated with each other. 

Actually, all the information that humankind so far obtained from its lasting many years unmanned missions to Solar System’s planets is thanks to plutonium, as no other element can help maintain energy self-sustainability of a space vehicle better. 

All spacecraft from Voyager 1 - which has become the first manmade object to reach interstellar space - right to the Curiosity rover currently exploring Mars, are fuelled by plutonium. Because solar panels are too big and energetically inefficient, a nuclear reactor is too heavy and complicated, chemical electric batteries that could last for years do not exist, so only radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTG) using plutonium-238 as fuel are proven and reliable source of power in space. 

But there is a peculiarity: Voyager 1 is still sending data using electricity generated from US-produced plutonium, while the Curiosity rover operates on watts generated from plutonium ‘made in Russia’.

Over the last years NASA has been ringing alarm bells over not having enough plutonium-238 to power up its deep space exploration mission space crafts, because the US stopped plutonium production decades ago and cannot restore the technology anytime soon. 

Unlike plutonium-239 that is used to make nuclear bombs and of which the US possesses hundreds of tons, its close isotope plutonium-238 is a much rarer element. 

With nuclear disarmament gaining momentum after the end of the Cold War, the US stopped producing military grade plutonium in 1992, with Russia shutting down its last military reactor producing plutonium-239 in 2010. But only Russia maintained industrial production of various isotopes of plutonium. 

NASA’s plutonium poverty is a long-lasting problem. The US space agency used to buy the necessary radioactive element from the sole planetary plutonium producer Russia for years, but starting from 2009, when Moscow demanded revision of the old contract and hiked the price, the US stopped buying plutonium from Russia. 

The US agency currently has just about 16kg of Pu-238, which isn’t much. The Curiosity rover’s ‘atomic heart’ consists of an RTG with over 4kg of the precious radioactive element, reports The Wired. But for example launched in 2006 New Horizons probe bound to Pluto right now travels through space with 11kg of the nuclear material on board. 

NASA admits it has plutonium enough only till the end of this decade, but a number of missions have already been shelved entirely due to the lack of Pu-238. 

Besides that, many military satellites also run on plutonium. As recently as August 28 this year, a Delta IV heavy rocket launched from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California delivered to orbit huge KH-11 intelligence satellite for the US National Reconnaissance Office. Even if this satellite has solar panels, as any military installation it must have a reserve power supply, most probably an RTG.

On the off chance the Pentagon has some secret plutonium stash, it wouldn’t last long, simply because the US stopped its own plutonium production in 1988. 

On top of all plutonium-238 half life is only about 87.7 years (for other plutonium isotopes it could be thousands or millions of years), so the metal produced a quarter of a century ago has partly lost its energy potential already. 

The US Atomic Energy Act forbids NASA from manufacturing plutonium-238 on its own, so starting from 2001 the space agency has been pressing the US authorities to restore Pu-238 production. The program estimated between $85 and $125 million is developing with a slow pace with financing of only $10 million in 2013. 

The program would imply using two reactors, the High Flux Isotope Reactor at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee and the Advanced Test Reactor west of Idaho Falls, and is supposed to deliver 1.5-2kg of plutonium annually starting from 2017. 

But even that supply is not likely to satisfy NASA’s needs as production of plutonium for a mission like the New Horizons would take years, while there are more missions that cannot wait. 

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