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February 4, 2000



German Federal Government Soon to Determine Fate

of Proposed FRM-II Research Reactor



            German officials will soon decide the fate of the proposed FRM-II research reactor based on last year’s commission review.  This decision comes in the wake of several highly relevant developments in the international non-proliferation initiative to terminate civilian commerce in bomb-grade, highly enriched uranium (HEU).


In recent months, operators of four old high-power Western research reactors -- built before the 1980 international decision to eschew bomb-grade uranium fuel in new reactors[1] -- have taken decisive steps toward converting to low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel, which is not suitable for weapons:


        In May 1999, the operator of the EU’s Petten reactor announced that it had successfully completed a conversion feasibility study and would be converting to LEU fuel.[2]


        In November 1999, it was reported that Belgium signed an exchange of notes with the United States committing to convert its BR-2 reactor to LEU fuel upon final qualification of suitable fuel, currently in the late stages of development.[3]


        Previously, France had made a similar commitment to convert its ILL-Grenoble research reactor.[4]


        Finally, South Africa recently announced initiation of a new feasibility study to convert its Safari research reactor to LEU fuel, despite having ample stocks of HEU fuel from dismantled weapons.[5]


            These developments cast into stark relief how the proposed use of HEU fuel in the FRM-II would run counter to the prevailing international non-proliferation norm.  Not only have all large Western research reactors built over the last two decades eschewed HEU in favor of LEU, but even those few older reactors whose operators once claimed they could not convert to LEU fuel are now embracing such conversion.


            Entrenched interests in Bavaria continue to insist on proceeding with HEU fuel in the face of contrary scientific evidence and international non-proliferation norms.  Such opposition was overcome in the above cases by the unwavering political will of courageous statesmen.  In Germany, a unique opportunity now presents itself for the federal government likewise to prevail over those who seek to perpetuate dangerous commerce in bomb-grade uranium.


It is crucial that the FRM-II core be modified prior to start-up to enable operations with LEU fuel.  If the reactor is permitted to begin operating with HEU fuel in its current design, the facility will become radioactive, significantly increasing the cost and decreasing the likelihood of any future modifications to permit use of LEU fuel. 


Decisive action should not be delayed any longer.  Failure to stop the HEU design now is all but certain to result in perpetual use of HEU fuel in the reactor over its 30-year lifetime, which would soon leave the FRM-II as the world’s only remaining research reactor to use bomb-grade uranium fuel.  The German federal government should act now to avert this ignominious outcome by requiring modification of the FRM-II to accommodate LEU fuel prior to start-up.  By so doing, it can seal a major non-proliferation triumph – helping rid the world of civilian commerce in one of the two principal materials used in nuclear weapons.



[1] International Nuclear Fuel Cycle Evaluation (Vienna: International Atomic Energy Agency, 1980).

[2] Ann MacLachlan, "Petten Director Says Study Clears Way for Start of LEU Conversion this Summer," Nuclear Fuel, May 31, 1999, p. 6.

[3] Ann MacLachlan, “U.S. Agrees to Continue HEU Shipments to BR2 After Belgians Agree to Convert,” Nuclear Fuel, November 29, 1999.

[4] Ann MacLachlan, "U.S. May Resume HEU Fuel Supply as France's ILL Studies Conversion," Nuclear Fuel, November 30, 1998, p. 3.

[5] G. Ball, “South Africa and the RERTR Programme: Current Status * An AEC Perspective,” presented at 22nd International Meeting of RERTR, Budapest, Hungary, October 1999.


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