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German Reactor Does Not Require Bomb-Grade Fuel, U.S. Insists

The Nuclear Control Institute today labeled as a "non-proposal" the latest German offer to the U.S. government on the controversial FRM-II nuclear research reactor, disclosed today by the Technical University-Munich at Garching, home of the proposed reactor.

The controversy stems from the reactor's planned use of bomb-grade, highly enriched uranium (HEU) fuel. The FRM-II would be the first large research reactor built to run on such fuel (outside of Libya and China) since the 1978 establishment of an international program to eliminate HEU from international commerce -- the Reduced Enrichment for Research and Test Reactors (RERTR) program. At a U.S.-German government meeting Thursday at the Bavarian town of Tegernsee, American officials reiterated their position that the reactor could achieve the same experimental performance using non-weapons-usable, low enriched uranium (LEU) fuel, if it were redesigned to have a slightly larger core and power. They also released detailed technical studies supporting this view.

Garching scientists have repeatedly refused to redesign the reactor despite its potential damage to worldwide nonproliferation efforts and the protests of the U.S. government and the Nuclear Control Institute. In their latest offer, the Garching scientists again refuse to redesign the reactor, insisting on using bomb-grade fuel for at least the first ten years of operation. After 2011, they propose to consider converting the reactor to LEU, but only if such conversion would have no impact on the reactor's performance. By refusing to redesign the reactor now, however, the Garching scientists make it impossible to convert the reactor to LEU, since the core of the present design is too small to permit conversion later.

"The German offer is a non-proposal," said Paul Leventhal, president of NCI. "Any new use of bomb-grade uranium anywhere in the world undermines nearly two decades of progress in the international effort to eliminate such material from commerce. The U.S. government has now provided incontrovertible evidence that the reactor can be converted to LEU without sacrificing performance. The Garching scientists have no technical legs to stand on."

The proposed reactor recently sparked an international uproar when German officials, turned down in their effort to buy HEU from the United States, prompted the Euratom Supply Agency (ESA) to enter negotiations to purchase bomb-grade uranium from Russia.

"The head of the ESA and the head of the Bavarian licensing authority are brothers -- Michael and Thomas Goppel," said Leventhal. "The bomb-grade uranium connection is transparent." Such a deal would threaten not only the RERTR program, but also the five-year U.S. effort to ensure that Russia's weapons uranium is blended down to non-weapons-usable form before leaving Russia, to reduce the risks of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism.

"The Garching scientists are now endangering an international arms control agreement, in addition to nearly two decades of progress in eliminating bomb-grade uranium from international commerce, by insisting on using HEU in a reactor that does not require it," said Leventhal. "It is time for responsible officials in Bonn and Munich to put an end to the irresponsible behavior of the Garching scientists."

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