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Agreement for USA commercial nuclear power to provide tritium for nuclear weapons

NNSA, TVA agree to ‘down-blend’ uranium to produce tritium for weapons, Oak Ridge Today  AUGUST 29, 2018, BY JOHN HUOTARI The National Nuclear Security Administration and the Tennessee Valley Authority announced last week that they intend to enter into an agreement to “down-blend” highly enriched uranium to low-enriched uranium in order to help produce tritium, a key “boosting” component in nuclear weapons.The highly enriched uranium used for the “down-blending” is processed, packaged, and shipped from the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, according to the NNSA. Y-12 is the main storage facility for certain categories of highly enriched uranium, which can be used in nuclear weapons and in naval reactors.

Low-enriched uranium, or LEU fuel, is used in a commercial power reactor run by TVA at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant Unit 1 near Spring City in Rhea County, southwest of Oak Ridge. Tritium is produced there by irradiating lithium-aluminate pellets with neutrons in rods known as tritium-producing burnable absorber rods, or TPBARs.

The irradiated rods are then shipped to the Savannah River Site, an NNSA production facility near Aiken, South Carolina. The Savannah River Site extracts the tritium from the irradiated rods, purifies it, and adds it to the existing inventory, according to the NNSA’s Fiscal Year 2018 Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan.

Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that has two neutrons and one proton. It has been described as an essential component in every nuclear weapon in the U.S. stockpile. It occurs naturally in small quantities but must be manufactured to obtain useful quantities. It enables weapons to produce a larger yield while reducing the overall size and weight of the warhead in a process known as “boosting,” the U.S. Department of Energy said in an environmental impact statement about 20 years ago.

But unlike other nuclear materials used in nuclear weapons, tritium decays at a rate of 5.5 percent per year—its half-life is about 12 years—and it must be replenished periodically…….

The new agreement follows a determination by U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry on August 21 that allows the NNSA to continue transfers of enriched uranium from DOE’s inventories in support of national security, the NNSA said in a press release.

The rest of this story, which you will find only on Oak Ridge Today, is available if you are a member: a subscriber, advertiser, or recent contributor to Oak Ridge Today.


August 31, 2018 - Posted by | business and costs, USA, weapons and war

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