Uranium unguarded in shuttered reactors

WASHINGTON, Jan. 16 (UPI) -- While the United States and Europe debate what to do about Iran's plan to enrich uranium, arms control experts warn about a more present danger.

"The greatest opportunity for would-be nuclear terrorists or countries seeking a quick bomb or two are poorly secured sites that contain significant quantities of highly enriched uranium," states a paper in the January issue of Arms Control Today.


Unlike plutonium, HEU can be worked without special protections and can be made into a relatively simple bomb.

According to the authors, Alexander Glaser and Frank N. von Hippel, there are 258 shuttered nuclear reactors worldwide that have not been properly decommissioned. They contain between 50 and 100 metric tons of HEU, enough for 1,000 bombs -- and most are not under proper guard.

"Many of these facilities are in urban locations with only modest security, presenting potential targets to would-be nuclear terrorists. A large fraction are in Russia, which has yet to give adequate priority to cleaning out facilities containing HEU that is no longer needed. At several sites, there is enough HEU to make more than 10 gun-type weapons," the paper states.


Russia, which accounts for about one-third of the world's HEU-fueled reactors and more than half of the world's civilian HEU, has yet to make a commitment to convert or decommission any of its own HEU-fueled research reactors. President George W. Bush took pressure off of Russia to do so at a February 2005 summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The two leaders agreed to limit to "third countries" U.S.-Russian cooperative efforts to deal with the danger from HEU-fueled reactors.

China, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States account for more than 90 percent of the global civilian HEU inventories and demand.

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