Russia on Thursday sent the United States the final shipment of atomic-energy material produced from downblended warhead-grade uranium, signaling the end of a 20-year bilateral nonproliferation program, the New York Times reported.
Under the Megatons to Megawatts program, Russia converted fissile material from approximately 20,000 Soviet-era warheads into civilian-grade uranium that was then used to fuel U.S. atomic power plants, generating roughly 10 percent of all of the electricity produced in the United States.
Senior Russian and U.S. officials gathered in St. Petersburg on Thursday to see off the final shipment, which contained enough uranium to fuel approximately 80 nuclear weapons.
“Congratulations on the last shipment! Stay safe!,” wrote acting U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller on one of the cylinders filled with low-enriched uranium.
“Our focus globally is to minimize high-enriched uranium wherever it is found,” Gottemoeller told the Times.
Russia and the United States continue to hold vast amounts of warhead-grade uranium, which has an enrichment level of around 90 percent, which is leftover from the Cold War. The onetime antagonists collectively are estimated to possess in excess of 700 tons of highly enriched uranium, according to the International Panel on Fissile Materials. Washington has downblended 143 tons of former HEU material and is committed to converting an additional 43 tons. Though Moscow has blended down more material than Washington, it is believed to still possess a much greater quantity of surplus bomb-ready uranium.
“For two decades, one in 10 light bulbs in America has been powered by nuclear material from Russian nuclear warheads,” U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said of the Megatons to Megawatts initiative, according to a Reuters report.
Russia earned roughly $17 billion over the two-decade run of the program, according to Moniz.