Report: U.S. To Produce First Bomb-Grade Uranium Since 1964
Nov. 01, 1987
OAK RIDGE, Tenn. (AP) _ Production of the first bomb-grade uranium in the United States since 1964 has begun, and the nuclear weapons plant here will be the final processing site, a newspaper reported Sunday.
Since 1964, all bomb-grade uranium needs have been met by drawing from existing stockpiles at Oak Ridge and by recycling material in old weapons retired from the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
Federal officials confirmed the United States recently shipped raw uranium to Great Britian, where the radioactive material will be enriched as the first step in the production, the Knoxville News-Sentinel said.
The material then will be returned to the U.S. Department of Energy's gaseous diffusion plant in Piketon, Ohio, where it will be transformed into nearly pure U-235, a highly fissionable isotope of uranium, the newspaper said. The U-235 will then be sent to the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge, where it will be converted into a weapons-usable form.
The final product will be shipped under tight security from Oak Ridge to Great Britain for what DOE officials described as a ''variety of purposes.''
Information on the amount of uranium involved, production dates and delivery schedules is classified, the paper reported.
Government officials would not comment on whether the United States intends to replenish its own reserves of bomb-grade uranium, the paper said.
''We have not changed our status at this time. As far as us, we are still on recycle,'' said Wayne Range, a spokesman for the DOE in Oak Ridge.
Great Britain is the only country to which the United States sells uranium for defense purposes, the newspaper said. Previously, U.S. uranium shipments to Britain came from reserves housed at the Y-12 plant, which still bears its World War II code name.
Britain's participation in the uranium-enrichment process, which officials said provided ''a cost advantage'' to Britain, is under the terms of a new defense pact. Britain also has its own nuclear weapons program.
Range declined to comment on whether the new arrangement was driven by financial reasons, or meant the U.S. stockpile can no longer support the needs of both countries.
The DOE and officials at the British Embassy in Washington would not comment on the planned use of the material. The highly enriched metal also can be used in production reactors to create plutonium, another key component of nuclear weapons.
Budget documents in recent years said renovations at Y-12 and ''upgrades'' at the Piketon plant were needed by sometime in 1988 in order to forestall possible uranium shortages in the weapons program.