MOSCOW - A 20-year-old deal that has powered American homes while reducing the risk of Russian nuclear material falling into the wrong hands approached its end on Thursday when the final shipment of uranium left St Petersburg for Baltimore.
Under the 1993 HEU Purchase Agreement, Russia downblended 500 metric tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU) from nuclear weapons into low-enriched uranium and sent it to the United States, where it was made into fuel for nuclear power plants.
Over much of the life of the deal, it was used to generate roughly half of all commercial nuclear energy produced in the United States, or nearly 10 percent of all US electricity, according to the US Energy Department.
"For two decades, one in 10 light bulbs in America has been powered by nuclear material from Russian nuclear warheads," Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said of the agreement, commonly known as Megatons for Megawatts.
It provided cash and jobs in Russia's nuclear industry at a time, after the 1991 Soviet collapse, when fears ran high that impoverished scientists would sell secrets or "dirty bomb" ingredients.
It was "crucial for stabilizing the Russian nuclear complex at a critical time in the 1990s," said Matthew Bunn, a Harvard University professor and expert on nuclear security and proliferation.
But times have changed. A richer Russia, while seeking to expand its nuclear energy industry, has resisted US efforts to extend the agreement or come up with another one to continue blending down HEU, Bunn said.