Since 2018, the US government has been investigating ways to employ low-enriched fuel that cannot be used as fissile material in weapons in order to reduce the proliferation concerns associated with maintaining stockpiles of highly-enriched uranium.
According to a report submitted by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to Congress last year, the US research program moved from a planning phase into a "iterative experimental campaign phase" in fiscal year 2021. The report stated that early findings indicate progress in what may be a 20–25-year design effort.
According to documents released on Wednesday, US research is getting closer to the possibility of replacing the bomb-grade uranium used in nuclear reactors on Navy submarines and aircraft carriers with a safer alternative, even though Congress is debating whether to continue funding the program.
Since 2018, in an effort to allay proliferation worries related to holding highly-enriched uranium stocks, the US government has been looking for ways to use low-enriched fuel that cannot be used as fissile material in weapons.
The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) reported to Congress last year that the US research program entered a "iterative experimental campaign phase" in fiscal year 2021 after transitioning from a planning phase. According to the article, preliminary results show development in a project that could take 20 to 25 years to complete.
The issue of highly-enriched fuel in naval vessels is made worse by the $245 billion AUKUS defense technology partnership with Australia and Britain, which asks for the sale of US nuclear-powered submarines and the sharing of nuclear-propulsion technology with Australia in response to China's growing influence in the Indo-Pacific.
Non-proliferation experts claim that shipping highly enriched uranium-using submarines to Australia could serve as a model for other countries wishing to utilize the fuel.
The low-enriched uranium fuel program seeks to meet "the stringent requirements for the power output, compact size, and long-life the US Navy requires," according to the NNSA report. The investigation discovered that "initial activities are the first steps on a long, costly path to fuel development and success is not assured."