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Dr. Frank von Hippel
Professor of Public and International Affairs
A Global Cleanout of Nuclear Weapon Materials
Lecture on Wednesday, April 4, 2012 at 4:00 P.M.
Michigan Student Union Ballroom
Humanity has created enough highly enriched uranium (HEU) and separated plutonium to produce well over 100,000 nuclear explosives. Most of this material is a legacy of the U.S.-Soviet Cold War nuclear arms race but separation of about half of the plutonium was initiated to provide startup fuel for plutonium breeder reactors that were never built.
Today, excess Cold War HEU is being blended down to low-enriched uranium (LEU) for use in power reactor fuel and some of it is being placed in reserves for future use as naval-reactor fuel. Excess separated plutonium is also mostly being disposed of in power reactor fuel.
A small part of the HEU -- but still hundreds of weapon equivalents -- was spread to more than 40 nations in reactor fuel for research reactors that the U.S. and Soviet Union supplied during the 1950s and 60s under their Atoms for Peace Programs. Today, a major effort is focused on converting those of these research reactors that are still operating to LEU and retrieving the fresh and spent HEU fuel. As France has demonstrated, naval reactors also could be converted to LEU fuel.