NCI WARNS GERMAN CHANCELLOR SCHROEDER
OF RISK OF TERRORISM" AT BAVARIAS FRM-II REACTOR
A new Bavarian nuclear reactor, awaiting final approval to begin operations with bomb-grade uranium fuel, would pose a grave threat of nuclear terrorism, according to a letter sent today to German President Gerhard Schroeder by the Washington D.C.-based Nuclear Control Institute.
It is highly imprudent to present such an extremely tempting target to Osama Bin Laden and other terrorists of his ilk, who have repeatedly sought to obtain this material in Europe, warned the letter from Institute's president, Paul L. Leventhal, and senior policy analyst, Alan J. Kuperman.
The new FRM-II reactor at the Technical University-Munich in Garching, Bavaria, is currently slated to use up to 360 kilograms of bomb-grade, highly enriched uranium (HEU) fuel by the year 2010, which the Institute noted was equivalent to dozens of bombs.
To underscore the danger posed by weapons-grade uranium, the Institute cited Manhattan Project physicist Luis Alvarez, who wrote that terrorists, if they had such material, would have a good chance of setting off a high-yield explosion simply by dropping one half of the material onto the other half. Further highlighting this threat, a study prepared for the Institute by five former nuclear-weapons designers from the U.S. Los Alamos National Laboratory concluded that any group sophisticated enough to obtain HEU or plutonium could put together a technical team capable of producing implosion (Nagasaki) as well as gun-type (Hiroshima) nuclear weapons.
The Bavarian reactor has received its first two construction licenses, and awaits only its third operating license from the federal government to load fuel and commence operations. The Institute urged the Chancellor to deny the third operating license (3.TEG) for the FRM-II on compelling national security grounds.
The Institute criticized as too little and too late a recently initialed agreement between Bavaria and the federal parliamentary undersecretary of state to start the FRM-II with 93%-enriched HEU fuel and then convert it after 2010 to 50%-enriched uranium fuel. Germany and the rest of the civilized world cannot afford to risk another 10 years of unnecessary commerce in weapons-grade uranium, it said. In addition, the Institute noted that reduction to 50% enrichment is insufficient to eliminate the terrorist threat . . . because uranium of this enrichment remains suitable for direct use in a nuclear weapon, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Citing the terrorist attacks of September 11, the letter added: The question you should ask, Mr. Chancellor, is whether the FRM-II at Garching can be defended against 19 well-armed, suicidal terrorists attacking from four different directions. That is the new threat made manifest by the terrorist attacks of September 11. If such a defense is possible, who is to pay for it and take responsibility for ensuring that it is maintained for decades to come at peak efficiency? It should be clear that the FRM-II was not designed to defend against such a sophisticated threat. Nor is it feasible or appropriate for a civilian university to be prepared to defend against such a threat.
The Institute proposed that the reactor instead be converted prior to start-up to low-enriched uranium (LEU), which is unsuitable for weapons. The letter cited two studies by the U.S. Argonne National Laboratory and Germanys Darmstadt University which make clear that such conversion is possible without reducing the quality or competitiveness of German scientific research. All high-power research reactors built in the West since 1978 use LEU fuel, so the FRM-II would be competing on a level playing field.
The letter closed by urging Schroeder to resist political pressure from Bavaria to permit use of bomb-grade uranium. Mr. Chancellor, the world changed on September 11. History will judge us by how quickly we recognize and react to this fundamental change. We ask you to put security before political exigency by halting the proposed use of bomb-grade uranium in Bavaria and ordering that the FRM-II reactor must be converted to non-weapons-usable LEU fuel before the federal government will issue a final operating license.