Issue Date: April 7, 2008
Waste Uranium May Be Worth $7.6 Billion
Depleted uranium stored as waste for decades by the Department of Energy at sites in Kentucky and Ohio may be worth billions of dollars, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO-08-606R). About one-third of some 700,000 metric tons of uranium left over from previous enrichment activities could be "re-enriched" and used to fuel nuclear power plants, GAO says. Because of the current high uranium prices, the depleted uranium stockpile could be worth $7.6 billion. But the price could vary anywhere between nothing and $20 billion because of the market's volatility, GAO adds. The uranium "tailings" have been viewed as a waste product, left over from when natural uranium was processed or enriched to obtain higher levels of uranium-235, which is needed to make weapons or reactor fuel. Many problems must be addressed, however, before this depleted uranium could be re-enriched and used as a fuel, the report notes. Among the problems are doubts that DOE even has authority to sell the uranium and the need for federal legislation to put it on the market. It is also questionable whether sufficient commercial enrichment capacity exists to treat the depleted stocks. Hence, GAO urges DOE to develop a plan to market the uranium.
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