FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 29, 1997
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DOE Press Office, 202/586-5806
Peña Doubles Amount of U.S. Plutonium and Highly Enriched Uranium Available for International Inspection
Signs Two Conventions to Improve Nuclear Safety
In a speech before the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) 41st Annual Conference in Vienna, Austria, U.S. Secretary of Energy Federico Peña today announced that the United States is doubling the amount of U.S. plutonium and highly enriched uranium available for international inspection. In addition, he announced new initiatives to accelerate progress on international nonproliferation agreements. He also urged increased cooperation to reduce the risk of nuclear terrorism and called on all nations to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. As the leader of the U.S. delegation to the conference, Secretary Peña signed a convention on spent fuel and nuclear waste management and a convention on nuclear liability that will lead to improved safety at nuclear reactors throughout the world.
"Our mission is to make sure that all nuclear material is safe and secure. That means ensuring that weapons-usable material doesn't fall into the wrong hands and improving the safety of reactors around the world," Peña said. "The work we've done today helps us in both these areas."
Peña announced that the United States will make an additional 52 tons of plutonium and highly enriched uranium available for IAEA inspection, beyond the 38 tons already available. He called on other nuclear weapons states to follow his lead. All of this material had been previously removed from military use. The announcement means that the United States is more than doubling the amount of defense-related nuclear material available for international inspection.
To accelerate progress on international nonproliferation agreements, Peña said the United States will soon conduct an experimental application of all measures included in the IAEA's newly strengthened safeguards system (the so-called 93+2 program). The experiment will take place at the Argonne National Laboratory site in Idaho and will provide a model for U.S. compliance with the safeguards.
Secretary Peña also announced that the IAEA will inspect the dilution of excess U.S. highly enriched uranium. "This will be the first time the agency has verified the transformation of fissile material from a nuclear weapons state's military sector to civilian uses," Peña said. "I hope that other nations will follow suit."
Secretary Peña signed the IAEA Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage, making the United States the first signatory. The convention provides important liability protection to American companies interested in nuclear reactor construction, safety upgrades and repairs in other countries. Peña also signed the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management, which requires signatories to manage spent fuel and radioactive waste according to agreed upon international standards. It encourages compliance with these standards through peer reviews and other incentives. Neither of these conventions require changes to U.S. law.
Secretary Peña held bilateral talks with his counterparts from Russia, South Korea, and Japan. In each of these meetings, Peña urged prompt ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, expanded safeguards for nuclear material and increased efforts to prevent nuclear terrorism. Secretary Peña and Russian Minister Mikhailov signed a Joint Statement of the Activities of International Nuclear Safety Centers that will support enhanced communication and cooperation between scientists and initiation of seven joint activities to improve the safety of Russian-designed nuclear reactors.
- DOE –
Canadian Nuclear Discussion List-
Experts in nuclear weapons recognize that by far the most difficult step in building a bomb like the one that destroyed Hiroshima is acquiring sufficient weapons-grade material. Yet a private Canadian multinational, MDS Nordion, has stockpiled almosttwo nuclear bombs' worth of the material near Ottawa. And this company is trying to import enough from the U.S. to more than double its stockpile.
MDS - a medical supplier - likes to use weapons-grade uranium instead of other materials that are not attractive to terrorists and rogue states because it is convenient and profitable. As it said in 1999, "switching to safer, low-enriched uranium fuel would be too costly and too troublesome." Some of MDS's commercial competitors have installed or are installing modified processes that do not require the use of the
Blinded by its commercial interests, MDS has failed to recognize its contribution to the risk of nuclear arms proliferation and global terrorism. When asked recently by the Ottawa Citizen about Canadian and U.S. watchdog groups' concerns, a corporate vice president said, "It would be the first time that I've ever heard that Canada is a proliferation threat."
To our disappointment, Canada's government is less concerned about the proliferation implications of trafficking in weapons-grade uranium than the U.S. government. While the U.S. government has been trying to phase out commerce in weapons-grade uranium, our federal government's own Atomic Energy of Canada is building two new reactors and a processing facility north of Ottawa on behalf of MDS that are designed to use the convenient but dangerous substance.
These projects are proceeding poorly. AECL has experienced serious safety problems, delays, and cost overruns. One reactor was started up briefly, only to be shut down for extensive testing and renovation following a failed safety test. The other reactor has yet to be brought on line.
The delay in starting these reactors creates an opportunity to convert to a safer process that does not rely on weapons-grade uranium. If MDS is not forced to discontinue its commerce in weapons-grade uranium soon, it will be more expensive to convert to a safer system once the two new reactors are fully radioactive and the processing facility becomes contaminated.
There is a growing international consensus that to reduce risks to international security, reliance on weapons-grade uranium in research reactors, test reactors, and isotope production reactors should be eliminated. Canada is one of the last nations to engage in international trafficking in weapons-grade uranium.
If you agree that we should stop putting profits ahead of public safety, please contact Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bill Graham, and urge him to bring Canada into line with international efforts to cease all use of, and commerce in, weapons-grade uranium (see contact information, below).
And please consider a generous donation to Energy Probe. We are working with other citizens' groups around the world to stop all production, stockpiling, and trafficking in weapons-grade material. Your tax-creditable, charitable donation will support us in this cause.
Contact information for Bill Graham, the Minister of Foreign Affairs:
Hon. Bill Graham
House of Commons, Parliament Buildings
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6
Ph: (613) 992-5234
F: (613) 996-9607
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