Power for U.S. From Russia’s Old Nuclear Weapons
What’s powering your home appliances? For about 10 percent of electricity in the United States, it’s fuel from dismantled nuclear bombs, including Russian ones.
But if more diluted weapons-grade uranium isn’t secured soon, the pipeline could run dry, with ramifications for consumers, as well as some American utilities and their Russian suppliers. In the last two decades, nuclear disarmament has become an integral part of the electricity industry, little known to most Americans.
Salvaged bomb material now generates about 10 percent of electricity in the United States — by comparison, hydropower generates about 6 percent and solar, biomass, wind and geothermal together account for 3 percent.
But at times, recycled Soviet bomb cores have made up the majority of the American market for low-enriched uranium fuel. Today, former bomb material from Russia accounts for 45 percent of the fuel in American nuclear reactors, while another 5 percent comes from American bombs, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry trade association in Washington.
Finding a substitute is a concern for utilities today because nuclear plants buy fuel three to five years in advance.