Such negotiations revolve around the number of deployed weapons and delivery vehicles. There is no requirement in the treaty that bomb cores be destroyed. That is negotiated separately.
For the industry, that means that now, as in the past, there will be no direct correlation between the number of warheads decommissioned and the quantity of highly enriched uranium or plutonium, also used in weapons, that the two countries declare surplus.
(This summer, Mr. Obama and President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia agreed to a new limit on delivery vehicles of 500 to 1,100 and a limit on deployed warheads as low as 1,500. The United States now has about 2,200 nuclear warheads and the Russians 2,800.)
Mr. Medvedev has reaffirmed Russia’s commitment to a 2000 agreement to dispose of plutonium, and both countries plan to convert that into reactor fuel as well.
An American diplomat and an official with a federal nuclear agency in Washington have confirmed, separately, that the two countries are quietly negotiating another agreement to continue diluting Russia’s highly enriched uranium after the expiration of Megatons to Megawatts, using some or all of the material from warheads likely to be taken out of the arsenals.
The government officials were not authorized to publicly discuss these efforts.
This possible successor deal to Megatons to Megawatts is known in the industry as HEU-2, for a High Enriched Uranium-2, and companies are rooting for it, according to Jeff Combs, president and owner of Ux Consulting, a company tracking uranium fuel pricing.
“You can look at it like a couple of very large uranium mines,” he said of the fissile material that would result from the program.
American reactors would not shut down without a deal; utilities could turn to commercial imports, which would most likely be much more expensive.
Enriching raw uranium is more expensive than converting highly enriched uranium to fuel grade.
To make fuel for electricity-generating reactors, uranium is enriched to less than 5 percent of the isotope U-235. To make weapons, it is enriched to about 90 percent U-235.
The United States Enrichment Corporation, a private company spun off from the Department of Energy in the 1990s, is the treaty-designated agent on the Russian imports. It, in turn, sells the fuel to utilities at prevailing market prices, an arrangement that at times has angered the Russians.
Since Megatons to Megawatts has existed, American utilities operating nuclear power plants, like Pacific Gas & Electric or Constellation Energy , have benefited as the abundance of fuel that came onto the market drastically reduced overall prices and created savings that were ultimately passed along to consumers and shareholders.
Nuclear industry giants like Areva, the French company; the United States Enrichment Corporation and Nuclear Fuel Services, another American company; and Rosatom, the Russian state nuclear corporation, are deeply involved in recycling weapons material and will need new supplies to continue that side of their businesses.
In the United States, domestic weapons recycling programs are smaller in scale and would be no replacement for Megatons for Megawatts. The Nuclear Fuel Services, in Erwin, Tenn., in 2005 began diluting uranium from the 217 tons the government declared surplus; so far 125 tons have been processed. It is used at the Tennessee Valley Authority plant.
The American plutonium recycling program is also well under way at a factory being built at the Energy Department’s Savannah River site in South Carolina to dismantle warheads from the American arsenal; a type of plutonium fuel, called mixed-oxide fuel, will come on the market in 2017.
In total, the 34 tons to be recycled there are expected to generate enough electricity for a million American homes for 50 years.