Nuclear Secrecy Impedes Oversight of HEU Exports, Critics Say

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is no longer disclosing the amounts of highly enriched uranium (HEU) that are sought for export to foreign research reactors, prompting complaints that the new non-disclosure policy undermines effective oversight of the traffic in nuclear weapons-grade material.

“Under prior longstanding policy the Commission publicly disclosed such information, and this enabled the public to submit comments that in several cases demonstrated to the Commission that an applicant had requested an amount of HEU exceeding its documented need,” wrote Alan J. Kuperman of the University of Texas at Austin and Paul Leventhal of the Nuclear Control Institute.

“In these [prior] cases, either the application was withdrawn, the Commission reduced the amount approved for export, or the Commission required that the approved amount be exported only in small tranches as the applicant subsequently demonstrated imminent need — to avoid the accumulation of surplus HEU by the applicant.”

But the opportunity for meaningful public comment on two pending applications for export of HEU — to Belgium and to Canada — “has been vitiated by the Commission’s new policy of withholding from the public both the amount of HEU requested and the applicant’s documentation that its existing inventory of HEU is insufficient to satisfy its imminent needs,” wrote Kuperman and Leventhal.

See their February 13, 2006, letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission here.

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