FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Alan Kuperman, Paul Leventhal
Tuesday, June 29, 1999 202-822-8444
NRC SETS STRICT CONDITIONS ON EXPORTS
OF BOMB-GRADE URANIUM TO CANADA
NRC's Threat to Revoke License
If U.S. Legal Requirements Are Not Met
Is 'Victory for Non-Proliferation', NCI Says
WASHINGTON The Nuclear Control Institute (NCI) today praised an order by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) that establishes strict conditions on exports of bomb-grade uranium to Canada for use in the production of medical isotopes.
Canadian manufacturers applied for a license for exports over five years of some 130 kilograms of bomb-grade, highly enriched uranium (HEU) "targets" for medical-isotope production in two new MAPLE nuclear reactors and in a new processing facility under construction at Canada's Chalk River nuclear installation. NCI sought to block the exports until the Canadian companies began actively cooperating to convert their process to non-weapons-grade, low-enriched uranium (LEU) targets, as required by the 1992 Schumer Amendment to the Energy Policy Act.
The Commission approved the license today, but conditioned future exports on proof of continuing, good-faith efforts to convert to LEU. The Commission issued an order directing the Canadian applicants and the U.S. Executive Branch to submit a "yearly status report detailing the progress of the program and Canadian cooperation in developing LEU targets."
In its 14-page decision, the NRC warned: "If the Commission should make a finding, following review of these periodic status reports and a public meeting if necessary, that the requirements of the Schumer Amendment are not being met, the Commission may modify, suspend, or revoke the license pursuant to Section 186 of the Atomic Energy Act and 10 CFR 110.52."
"This is both a victory for nuclear non-proliferation and an accommodation of the need to ensure an uninterrupted supply of vital medical isotopes for the treatment of cancer," said NCI President Paul Leventhal. NCI senior policy analyst, Alan Kuperman, noted that the required Canadian cooperation to convert to non-weapons usable uranium was not forthcoming until NCI filed a petition to intervene in opposition to issuance of the license. "In previous years," Kuperman said, "the Canadian companies insisted that conversion to LEU targets was not feasible. Now they are telling the U.S. government and the Canadian press that they are committed to convert as soon as possible. It would be very difficult for them now to go back on this commitment."
The NRC noted the recent Canadian change of heart: "At the time NCI filed its pleadings with the Commission, the continuing existence and extent of an active program to develop LEU targets for use in the MAPLE reactors were not readily apparent." Subsequently, the Canadian companies signed a confidentiality agreement and began sharing information necessary to develop LEU targets. "Actions taken by the participants . . . satisfy us that an active LEU target development program for the MAPLE reactors is currently under way at ANL."
However, the Commission indicated it will look for real evidence of an LEU development program, not merely paper commitments. "The Executive Branch Reports should include assurances that the funds necessary to develop the LEU targets in a timely manner have been made available to Argonne National Laboratory," where such targets are developed.
The NRC says it expects "Atomic Energy Canada, Ltd. will cooperate fully with Argonne National Laboratory to complete a feasibility study" within three months. This will permit AECL to "consider whether minor modifications could be made prior to the [new] MAPLE reactors and their processing facility coming on line that would permit the use of LEU targets, or take other reasonable measures that would at least preserve the opportunity to move to LEU targets in the future."
Note to Editors: The NRC decision and NCI documents in the licensing proceeding can be downloaded from the NCI website:
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