Belgium seeks more info on US plutonium request

BRUSSELS, Belgium (Reuters) - Belgium said Tuesday it needed more information before deciding whether it would accede to a U.S. request to recycle weapons-grade plutonium from an arms reduction deal with Russia. Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said his cabinet would not debate the U.S. request before additional information is made available. "The prime minister wishes to evaluate how much this recycling project will contribute to helping to speed up nuclear disarmament," Verhofstadt's office said in a statement. The Bush administration has asked Belgium to recycle 176 pounds of the highly fissile material into low-grade nuclear fuel under a deal with Russia to reduce each side's deployed strategic nuclear warheads to between 1,700 and 2,200 from about 6,000. Belgium and France have the technology to convert nuclear weapons-grade material into MOX fuel that can be used in civilian nuclear power plants, while the United States does not. A U.S. embassy spokesman said last week that Washington planned to license the technology to build two similar plants in the United States, but it first wanted to ship a small amount of plutonium to Belgium or France to simulate the procedure in a test facility. The Greens, the junior group in Verhofstadt's three-party coalition, has opposed the U.S. plan on grounds that it could pose risks to the environment. 07/16/02 13:39 ET Copyright 2002 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.