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U.S. Energy Department Cannot Account For Nuclear

Fri Feb 27, 2009 1:28 pm

U.S. Energy Department Cannot Account for Nuclear Materials at 15 Locations
Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2009
By Katherine McIntire Peters

WASHINGTON -- A number of U.S. institutions with licenses to hold nuclear material reported to the Energy Department in 2004 that the amount of material they held was less than agency records indicated. But rather than investigating the discrepancies, Energy officials wrote off significant quantities of nuclear material from the department's inventory records.

That's just one of the findings of a report released yesterday by Energy Department Inspector General Gregory Friedman that concluded "the department cannot properly account for and effectively manage its nuclear materials maintained by domestic licensees and may be unable to detect lost or stolen material."

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RE: U.S. Energy Department Cannot Account For Nuclear

Fri Feb 27, 2009 2:26 pm

Quoting MadameConcorde (Thread starter):
Energy officials wrote off significant quantities of nuclear material from the department's inventory records.

From the reference cited:

Auditors found that Energy could not accurately account for the quantities and locations of nuclear material at 15 out of 40, or 37 percent, of facilities reviewed. The materials written off included 20,580 grams of enriched uranium, 45 grams of plutonium, 5,001 kilograms of normal uranium and 189,139 kilograms of depleted uranium.

No surprise in some ways, material has been taking a walk for a long time, but it is a surprise if the problems are still current. Funnily enough, the amounts are broadly consistent with the amounts Iran is said not to have declared - no it could not be!!! 20 kg of enriched U - wonder if it is reactor grade or bomb grade is not good. Not knowing where 189 tonnes of DU is a bit astonishing even if it is not good for making nuclear weapons. How in heck do you not know where 189 tonnes might be?

I wonder if the audit takes into account the Russian sourced material.
USEC, with its aging and inefficient gaseous diffusion enrichment plants, is the highest-cost supplier in an oversupplied world enrichment market. To survive until plants using more efficient technology can be built, USEC has needed either a U.S. government subsidy or a source of supply that it can purchase for well below market prices, using the resulting profit to subsidize its uncompetitive operations. Hence, after failing in 1999 to convince the U.S. government to provide hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies to cover what it asserted were reduced profits resulting from carrying out this national security initiative, USEC sought to convince Russia to provide the LEU from the HEU purchase agreement at prices well below market rates. After several years of controversy and dispute (during which both the Clinton and Bush administrations undertook prolonged reviews of USEC's proposed approach), in June 2002, the U.S. and Russian governments finally approved a modified contract covering the whole period until 2013, when the current purchase agreement expires.

The new contract arrangement is complex, setting the price USEC pays Russia at roughly a 10-15% discount from a three-year-lagged average of various market prices for enrichment work (measured in "separative work units," or SWUs). The discount itself is modest, intended to reflect USEC's marketing and handling costs, but the effect of the choice of indexes to average, and the three-year lag, is that for years to come, USEC will be paying Russia prices well below the market prices at which USEC will sell the material. This will give USEC a strong profit incentive to carry out the deal, something that has sometimes been lacking in the past.[10] But at the same time, the new arrangement reduces the payments to Russia that have been the main source of revenue for cleaning up and converting Russia's massive nuclear weapons complex, and the U.S. government's willingness to help USEC force Russia to accept this below-market rate has provoked considerable bitterness among some Russian nuclear officials.[11]

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