The Honourable Hazel O'Leary
Secretary of Energy
Washington, DC 20585
United States of America

Dear Madam Secretary,

Since 1978, the United States has encouraged countries to convert the cores of their research and test reactors from the use of highly enriched uranium (HEU) to nuclear fuels of low enriched uranium (LEU). This effort, initiated by President Carter, was an important element of the U. S. nor-proliferation policy throughout most of the 1980s and was fully supported through the Reduced Enrichment for Research and Test Reactors (RERTR) programme by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The expiration of the U. S. Department of Energy's Off-Site Fuels Policy (the Policy) in 1988 has led to a crisis for the operators of research reactors in many countries where the laws are such that continuation of licensing and/or purchase of new nuclear fuels is contingent upon a resolution of spent fuel management problems. This situation is exacerbated for many reactor operators who complied with the wishes of the U. S. and converted their cores to LEU. They now have interim storage pools filled with irradiated HEU fuels and are trying to cope with a greater throughput of LEU fuels. The anticipated announcement that the U.S. DOE will renew the Policy and in due course begin the take back of research reactor fuels of U.S. origin from around the world will be very much welcomed by the Agency and many of its Member States.

However, because of the problems of spent fuel management facing, the operators of many research reactors the Agency urges the earliest implementation of the Policy renewal. Some of these research facilities are the only sources of radioisotope production for medical uses in the countries in question, but face imminent closure unless they can resolve their problems of spent fuel management quickly. The Agency has initiated programmes to advise them, but the real solution for most of them is to return their irradiated research reactor fuels of U. S. origin. It is understood that the renewal of the Policy will require the solution of difficult and complex budgetary, environmental, transportation, legal and technical issues. Nevertheless, the Agency is confident that when the resources of the U. S. DOE are brought to bear oil these problems that they will be resolved as soon as possible.

Limiting the use and location of HEU fuels throughout the world remains a valuable objective and will serve the security interests of all nations. The Agency stands ready to help in any way it can consistent with its mandate and budgetary constraints.

Yours sincerely,

Hans Blix

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