June 11, 1999

The Honorable Bill Richardson
Secretary of Energy
Department of Energy
1000 Independence Ave., SW
Washington, DC 20585

Plutonium Security Lapses in Belgium

Dear Mr. Secretary:

We are writing to express our grave concerns about physical protection arrangements for an imminent shipment of mixed-oxide fuel from Belgium to France. For reasons discussed below, we ask you to engage in "immediate consultations" with Euratom and Belgian authorities, as provided for in the U.S.-Euratom Agreement for Nuclear Cooperation, to avoid the risk from inadequate physical security measures being applied to transport of U.S.-origin weapons-usable plutonium.

This shipment of MOX fuel, which contains U.S.-origin plutonium, is the first to be fabricated in Belgium for a Japanese nuclear utility. The fuel is to be sent by truck from the FBFC International MOX fabrication facility located in Dessel, Belgium to France, where it will be stored until it is shipped to Japan later this summer under a security plan reviewed by the United States.

According to recent Belgian press reports, the fresh MOX fuel was stored for several days in May in two unguarded trucks next to a fence at the FBFC facility. "A terrorist group could get to the truck," a spokesman for the Belgian Ministry of the Interior acknowledged [De Morgan, June 3, 1999]. Belgian authorities ordered the truck unloaded and the shipment has been postponed, as stated in a June 3 news release from the Belgian Minister of Interior Affairs. We believe the postponement is due to concern raised about physical security of the material.

The apparent lack of adequate physical security at the FBFC facility is shocking. As MOX fuel is classified as "direct use" weapons-usable nuclear material, the Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials and the International Atomic Energy Agency's guidelines require that MOX be subject to the most stringent physical protection measures. Indeed, the U.S. Department of Energy, in its domestic plutonium-disposition program, decided to use Safe Secure Transport trucks (SSTs) --- the same vehicles that transport nuclear weapons --- to ship MOX fuel from the fabrication plant to reactors for irradiation and DOE has stated that it will apply the "stored weapon standard" --- security equal to that used to protect nuclear weapons --- to MOX.

The evidence of lax security for MOX fuel storage, handling and transport calls into question whether Belgian authorities are in compliance with the physical-protection requirements in the U.S.-Euratom nuclear cooperation agreement. Article 11 of the agreement stipulates that "nuclear material transferred pursuant to this Agreement . . . shall be subject to adequate measures of physical protection" and that specific physical protection provisions of the International Atomic Energy Agency shall be met. Paragraph 3 of Article 8 states that "if there are grounds to believe that the provisions" requiring specified levels of physical protection "are not being fully complied with, immediate consultations may be called for." This article of the agreement goes on to state that "Following upon such consultations, each Party shall ensure by means of such consultations that necessary corrective measures are taken immediately" at those facilities where physical protection is inadequate. The U.S. Department of Energy analysis of the U.S.-Euratom agreement specifies that "immediate consultations" are to be held whenever the U.S. considers that there are grounds to believe that the physical protection of any listed facility does not meet the required standards.

Given the provisions of the U.S.-Euratom agreement and events that have transpired over the past two weeks with the MOX shipment in Belgium, we ask that you initiate consultations immediately concerning inadequate physical protection at the Belgian facility where MOX fuel containing U.S.-origin plutonium is fabricated and stored and in regard to physical protection in transport. Since 1974, the Department of Energy has investigated and evaluated physical security at European facilities, including Belgian facilities, with U.S.-origin nuclear material. The Department of Energy is thus well positioned to take immediate steps to ascertain the security situation in Belgium and has the right to do so under the U.S.-Euratom agreement.

In addition, we would like to know whether lax security measures at the FBFC MOX facility were considered as the United States reviewed the security plan for the transport of MOX from Europe to Japan. Given that the United States is required to review and sign-off on that plan we would like to know if the situation at FBFC was assessed or if the Belgian authorities communicated to the U.S. regarding the adequacy of physical protection at the facility.

This first shipment of MOX fuel from Europe to Japan will establish a precedent for any subsequent shipments. Therefore, we believe it is essential that the United States insist that the most stringent protection be applied to this dangerous, weapons-usable nuclear material and that all requirements for physical protection as stipulated by the U.S.-Euratom and U.S.-Japan agreements be met.

We urge you to give this matter your immediate attention, and we are prepared to meet with you and your staff to discuss this matter further. We look forward to your prompt response to the concerns raised in this letter.



            Paul Leventhal                                                         Damon Moglen
            Nuclear Control Institute                                         Greenpeace International

** DOE Response 7/12/99 **

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