Nuclear Material: DOE's Depleted Uranium Tails Could Be a Source of Revenue for the Government
Since the 1940s, the Department of Energy (DOE) has been processing natural uranium into enriched uranium, which has a higher concentration of the isotope uranium-235 that can be used in nuclear weapons or reactors. This has resulted in over 700,000 metric tons of leftover depleted uranium, also known as "tails," that have varying residual concentrations of uranium-235. The tails are stored at DOE's uranium enrichment plants in Portsmouth, Ohio and Paducah, Kentucky. Although the tails have historically been considered a waste product, increases in uranium prices may give DOE options to use some of the tails in ways that could provide revenue to the government. GAO's testimony is based on its March 2008 report (GAO-08-606R). GAO updated the analysis in its 2008 report to reflect current uranium prices and actions taken by DOE. The testimony focuses on (1) DOE's options for its tails and (2) the potential value of DOE's tails and factors that affect the value.