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Production of Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) for the Soviet nuclear program at the Urals Electrochemical Combine (UEKhK) in Sverdlovsk-44, now called Novouralsk, began in 1949. By the end of the Cold War, when the gaseous diffusion equipment was replaced with centrifuge technology and additional plants were constructed, the facility had the capacity to produce almost 12 million SWU per year. 1
UEKhK is fully converted to civilian use and no longer produces HEU. Today, UEKhK enriches uranium for Low-Enriched Uranium (LEU) fuel, and develops technologies with a range of industrial applications. 2 The facility has a production capacity of 10 million SWU/year, the world’s largest to-date, and can enrich up to 30% U-235 material, which is used for research and fast breeder reactors. 3 In addition, UEKhK is a participant in the U.S.–Russian HEU-LEU program, under which it downblends some HEU. 4
UEKhK has a history of foreign partnerships. It was one of the primary facilities, along with the Angarsk Electrolytic Chemical Combine, involved in the construction of centrifuge plants in Shaan-xi and Lanzhou, China in the 1990s to serve China’s domestic fuel needs. 5 Since 2010, Rosatomprom and Kazatomprom have been developing a plan for a Russo-Kazakh joint venture, the “Uranium Enrichment Center (UEC),” based at Novouralsk. The facility would enrich uranium for Kazakhstan; its share would be 50%, proportionate to the need to enrich to 6000 tU/yr. 6 The UEKhK also received funding and assistance from the U.S. Government through the Department of Energy’s MPC&A program, which focused on improving material control and accounting, as well as physical protection at the facility. 7
- Highly enriched uranium (HEU)
- Highly enriched uranium (HEU): Refers to uranium with a concentration of more than 20% of the isotope U-235. Achieved via the process of enrichment. See entry for enriched uranium.
- Diffusion: A technique for uranium enrichment in which the lighter Uranium 235 isotopes in UF6 gas move through a porous barrier more rapidly than the heavier Uranium 238 isotopes.
- Centrifuge: A machine used to enrich uranium by rapidly spinning a cylinder (known as a rotor and containing uranium hexafluoride gas) inside another cylinder (called the casing).
- Enriched uranium
- Enriched uranium: Uranium with an increased concentration of the isotope U-235, relative to natural uranium. Natural uranium contains 0.7 percent U-235, whereas nuclear weapons typically require uranium enriched to very high levels (see the definitions for “highly enriched uranium” and “weapons-grade”). Nuclear power plant fuel typically uses uranium enriched to 3 to 5 percent U-235, material that is not sufficiently enriched to be used for nuclear weapons.
- Low enriched uranium (LEU)
- Low enriched uranium (LEU): Refers to uranium with a concentration of the isotope U-235 that is higher than that found in natural uranium but lower than 20% LEU (usually 3 to 5%). LEU is used as fuel for many nuclear reactor designs.
- Downblending: Refers to the process of blending down HEU to LEU. This is done by mixing HEU and the blendstock (of natural, depleted, or slightly enriched uranium) in either liquid or gas form. See highly enriched uranium and low enriched uranium.
- Pavel Podvig, “History of Highly Enriched Uranium Production in Russia,” Science & Global Security, 19/2011, pp. 58-59.
- “О предприятии” [“About the Enterprise”], ОАО “Уральский электрохимический комбинат" [OJSC “Ural Electrochemical Combine”], www.ueip.ru.
- “Russia’s Nuclear Fuel Cycle,” World Nuclear Association, August 2012, www.world-nuclear.org.
- Pavel Podvig, “Consolidating Fissile Materials in Russia’s Nuclear Complex,” International Panel on Fissile Materials, May 2009, p. 25, www.fissilematerials.org.
- Oleg Bukharin, “Understanding Russia’s Uranium Enrichment Complex,” Science and Global Security, 12:193–218, 2004.
- “Uranium and Nuclear Power in Kazakhstan,” World Nuclear Association, March 2014, www.world-nuclear.org.
- “MPC&A Program: Strategic Plan,” Office of Arms Control and Nonproliferation, U.S. Department of Energy, January 1998.