February 9, 1996
Mr. Paul Leventhal
President, Nuclear Control Institute
1000 Connecticut Ave. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20036
Dear Mr. Leventhal:
This is in response to your January 5, 1996 letter to Secretary Christopher in which you propose that the State Department intervene to prevent the sale of highly enriched uranium (HEU) from the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy (MINATOM) to research reactors in Western Europe. I assure you that we have raised our concerns about this matter with the Russian Government several times, and that we will continue to discuss it with them.
The United States has long advocated a policy to minimize and eventually eliminate the use of HEU in civil nuclear commerce. We have explained this policy on numerous occasions over the years to our traditional nuclear trading partners in Western Europe, Japan, Canada, and Australia. We believe that there is broad, but not universal, support for this policy. We have worked with the West Europeans and others in a highly successful program to convert research reactors which use HEU fuel to utilize low enriched uranium (LEU) fuel. Over forty research reactors have converted or have committed to convert to LEU, including most of the research reactors in Western Europe.
Four existing research reactors in Western Europe have not converted or committed to convert to existing LEU fuels. Three of these utilize a very high density fuel for which there is as yet no LEU alternative. The United States is attempting to initiate a program to develop LEU technologies for this very high density fuel and will continue to urge that all research reactors convert to LEU for nonproliferation reasons.
Over the past year, we have discussed our policy to minimize and eventually eliminate the use of HEU in civil commerce with the governments of China, Russia, and various East European states. The United States does not, for reasons of both law and policy, export HEU except under very stringent conditions related to development of new LEU fuels and commitments from the prospective importer to utilize such fuels when available.
We have urged the Government of Russia to adopt similar policies, and we will continue to encourage them to do so. The Department of Energy through Argonne National Laboratory has initiated a program of technical cooperation with a group of Russian scientific institutes on the development of LEU fuel technology for Soviet-designed research reactors. We hope that this technical cooperation will ultimately result in the conversion of research reactors in Russia and in countries which have research reactors of the Soviet design.
Regarding your comments that the import of HEU from Russia would permit the Technical University at Munich to construct the FRM II research reactor on a design utilizing HEU, the German Government has informed us that the reactor operator at the Technical University of Munich is not negotiating with MINATOM for HEU supply. Technical University at Munich officials have informed their licensing authority that they have secured a ten-year supply of HEU from domestic inventories. These contracts were secured well before reports of possible MINATOM supply of HEU to a couple of research reactors in Western Europe. Therefore, the construction of the FRM II reactor does not appear to be dependent upon possible MINATOM supply of HEU to Western Europe.
I appreciate your interest in this matter. I assure you that we will continue to urge the Government of Russia to support the goal of minimizing and eventually eliminating civil world commeree in HEU.
Thomas E. McNamara