Just when you thought that Cold War politics and paranoia had dissipated, a story like this bubbles to the surface. After 15 years of sucking uranium out of decommissioned Russian warheads in relative obscurity, the U.S. will have to say goodbye to a huge chunk of its clean nuclear energy (5 percent of America’s electricity to be exact). This is almost like a nail in the nuclear industry’s coffin as fears over instability combine simultaneously with a shrinking supply of Chinese and Russian lithium.
According to U.S. under-secretary of state for arms control, Rose Gottemoeller, it all started in 1993. Gottemoeller told a United Nations committee that a little-known arms reduction accord called the “megatons-to-megawatts” deal between the United States and Russia was a rare success. Signed after the fall of the Soviet Union, the two superpowers agreed to walk away from atomic warfare and use the preexisting weapons as a means of power generation under their 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.
Now, more than a decade later, Russian officials have changed their minds. Diplomats stepped in to no avail, and a new, but inferior contract has been signed. According to John Upton’s article on grist.org, “[T]he deal under which 500 tonnes of Russian weapons-grade uranium has been used to light and heat American homes will end next month because Russia believes its former Cold War rival has been getting energy on the cheap.”
The last shipment of warhead uranium will be sent in November 2013. After that, the new contract will go into effect, and the U.S. will begin to receive half of the usual uranium, which will be commercially produced instead of siphoned from old nuclear missiles.
Guess the U.S. will have to get more creative with wind and solar energy. Maybe this coda to the Cold War fiasco will be a motivational blessing in disguise.