Avenue NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20036.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, September 26, 2006
CONTACT: Alan Kuperman, Kuperman@nci.org, (512) 471-8245
IN RESPONSE TO NCI APPEAL
Bomb-Grade Export Applications to Be Fully Disclosed
Institute Lauds Rethinking of “Counter-Productive Over-Reaction” to 9/11
WASHINGTON – In a remarkable reversal, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has announced that it no longer will keep secret the amount of bomb-grade, highly enriched uranium (HEU) that foreign entities request to export from the United States.
The decision comes in response to a request by the Nuclear Control Institute that the Commission repeal its secrecy policy adopted in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. The Institute argued that disclosure of such information benefited the public interest and was required by law. The Commission, headed by new chairman Dale Klein, apparently found those arguments compelling.
“After considering your recommendations and various other factors, NRC will discontinue automatically withholding material quantity information from the public versions of export license applications,” Klein wrote to the Institute in a 31 August 2006 letter. He added: “Federal Register notices for proposed HEU exports will also include quantities requested.”
The NRC decision tracks closely the Institute’s request to the NRC in a 12 June 2006 letter, which stated: “The Commission should routinely disclose to the public in a timely manner the amount of HEU in any export license application it receives. This disclosure should be published in the Federal Register, ideally at the same time that the application is published.”
NCI senior policy analyst, Alan J. Kuperman, today praised the Commission and its new chairman for “rethinking and reversing a secrecy policy that was a counter-productive over-reaction to the attacks of September 11. Openness is not only required by law but crucial to enabling the public to assist the Commission to fulfill its statutory responsibility to minimize commerce in bomb-grade uranium. The new policy will also help deter foreign entities from requesting excessive amounts of bomb-grade uranium and encourage them to convert to non-weapon-usable, low-enriched uranium.”
The Institute’s appeal to the NRC noted that prior to the secrecy policy, the Institute had notified the Commission several times that foreign entities were requesting licenses for amounts of bomb-grade uranium exceeding their need or entitlement under U.S. law, leading the Commission to reduce those amounts or not approve the licenses.
The Institute first protested to the Commission about its secrecy policy in a letter of 13 February 2006. The NRC responded on 26 April 2006, conceding “that the general screening criteria are not necessarily appropriate for every situation,” but failing formally to reverse the policy. The Institute appealed that decision in its letter of 12 June 2006.
Klein’s response indicates that bomb-grade uranium is among the materials covered by the new disclosure policy. “The NRC intends to disclose quantity information for enriched uranium above 6% U-235, mixed oxide materials, and certain other radionuclides absent an NRC determination of a compelling reason for nondisclosure.”
But the new policy does not cover export logistics, according to Klein: “The NRC will continue to withhold information on projected or actual shipment schedules, delivery dates, date required, mode of transport, storage arrangements, or any other related logistical information provided by either the applicant, the licensee, other parties to the transaction or added by NRC, as this information could be useful to a potential adversary.”
NCI’s founding president, Paul L. Leventhal, warned that this aspect of the revised policy could lead to inadequate security measures during shipping and storage. “Although we agree that the NRC should withhold specific information on the timing of shipments, which could be useful to would-be terrorists, the American public has a right to more general information about the security measures to be applied to U.S.-origin, bomb-grade nuclear material during transport to and storage at foreign facilities –essential to assess their adequacy. We urge the Commission to disclose such information as well.”
A copy of the NRC letter, the preceding correspondence with NCI, and other background information can be found at www.nci.org.