Civilian-use uranium open to proliferation

Oct. 30, 2008 at 5:40 PM
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 30 (UPI) -- A U.S.-led initiative to relocate and secure at-risk nuclear material faces collapse without the cooperation of the world community, officials say.

The U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration last week conducted a massive relocation of some 341 pounds of highly enriched uranium, or HEU, from a Hungarian research facility to secure storage areas in northern Russia.

The transport was part of the Global Threat Reduction Initiative of 2004, a U.S. program aimed at locating, reducing and securing nuclear and radiological material from civilian facilities. While the Oct. 22 relocation was praised as a milestone, former Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia, now co-chairman of Nuclear Threat Initiative, said world leaders needed to step up their efforts on the program to avoid widespread proliferation of civilian nuclear material, said a report from World Politics Review.

"We are in a race between cooperation and catastrophe," warned Nunn.

Highly enriched uranium is used in civilian medical research and is thought less secure than uranium used in civilian nuclear power plants. The type of research material, available in research labs in small amounts is used commonly in the manufacture of nuclear weapons and could be employed for use in a so-called dirty bomb, the report said.

Meanwhile, despite the reduction in the quantity of civilian nuclear and radiological material, the program does not do enough to secure "orphaned" material that has escaped international monitoring, leaving it susceptible to trade and further proliferation.

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