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AMs Thursday, April 23, 1998

CONTACT: Paul Leventhal

Alan Kuperman



IAEA Supports Phase-Out of Bomb Grade Fuel,
Testing of Fuel Prior to Operation, NCI Says

WASHINGTON -- Contrary to a recent press release from the Bavarian Prime Minister's office, the International Atomic Energy Agency does not support continued use of bomb-grade uranium fuel in reactors like the proposed FRM-II at the Technical University-Munich, the Nuclear Control Institute said today in Washington. Moreover, the Institute pointed out, the Agency's own safety guidelines urge that proposed fuel be test-irradiated prior to operation of a reactor, a prudent safety measure that TU-M scientists refuse to carry out.

Last week, a German News Agency (DPA) report based on the press release indicated that IAEA Director General Mohamed El-Baradei, in a meeting with Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber, had given his support to the current design of the FRM-II, which would use untested high-density fuel made of bomb-grade, highly enriched uranium (HEU). Today, however, the Nuclear Control Institute released several IAEA documents which demonstrate that the agency has long supported a phase out of HEU fuel on grounds of nuclear nonproliferation. Moreover, agency documents call for irradiation testing of all fuel prior to reactor operation.

El-Baradei's predecessor, IAEA Director General Hans Blix, stated the agency's position clearly in a letter to U.S. Secretary of Energy Hazel O'Leary, dated July 1, 1993: "Limiting the use and location of HEU fuels throughout the world remains a valuable objective and will serve the security interests of all nations."

Blix reiterated this support for the international effort to eliminate HEU commerce, known as the Reduced Enrichment for Research and Test Reactors (RERTR) program, in a February 2, 1995 letter to Russian Minister of Atomic Energy, Viktor Michailov. The letter states: "If the RERTR programme goals could be achieved ... international trade in HEU for research reactors will almost completely disappear," adding that, "the Agency stands ready to help in this worthwhile international endeavour in any way it can..."

IAEA fuel safety guidelines are contained in "Safety Series Number 35-G1: Safety Assessment of Research Reactors and Preparation of the Safety Analysis Report." Its relevant provision states that, "These analyses and information should be supported by a report on experimental measurements and irradiation experience..." (Paragraph A. 509) Despite this, Bavarian licensing officials told NCI representatives during a recent visit to Munich that they have no intention of requiring actual irradiation testing of the high-density HEU fuel which will comprise 80 percent of the FRM-II core.

Today, NCI President Paul Leventhal, joined by senior policy analyst Alan Kuperman, issued the following statement:

"The recent press release from the Bavarian Prime Minister's office bears the unmistakable imprint of the TU-M press office, which continues to distort and misrepresent facts in TU-M's rush to acquire and use untested bomb-grade uranium fuel in the FRM-II. We urge Bavarian Environment Minister Thomas Goppel to put an end to this folly by directing the TU-M to redesign the reactor to use previously tested, non-weapons usable, low enriched uranium. As the FRM-II's director recently told the Suddeutsche Zeitung, such a redesign would add no more than about 10% to the cost of the project. This is a small price to pay to reduce the dual risks of nuclear proliferation and a mini-Chernobyl in Bavaria."

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