USA has not gotten all of its highly-enriched uranium back.
As reported in a special report in the Chicago Tribune, the
USA had a program in the ’50’s and 60’s called “Atoms
for Peace.” Initially, we supplied low-grade uranium fuel to
countries that pledged to not develop nuclear weapons. But at
some point, the policy shifted, and we began shipping the high-grade
stuff. The idea was that we would get it back when it was no
longer useful as fuel.
atomic threat made in America
How the U.S. spread bomb-grade fuel worldwide
and failed to get it back
By Sam Roe
Tribune staff reporter
January 28, 2007
…Romania is but one example in a world that
reverberates from the fallout of the United States’ Cold War folly
known as Atoms for Peace, a program that distributed highly enriched
uranium around the world.
That uranium was intended solely to be used as fuel in civilian
research reactors. But it is potent enough to make nuclear bombs and
can be found everywhere from Romania, now a crossroads for nuclear
smuggling, to an Iranian research reactor at the center of that
nation’s controversial nuclear program.
Three dozen other nations also obtained highly enriched uranium from
…America initially provided this dangerous uranium fuel with the
provision that foreigners return the used material, which remained
weapons-grade. But in 1964, the Johnson administration started selling
the fuel with no such requirement…
The rest of the article details the various efforts to get the fuel
back. It’s a story of waxing and waning fortunes, as the
political climate shifted from one administration to another:
…When Ronald Reagan defeated Carter in 1980, the
retrieval effort fell out of favor. With memories of India’s test
fading and terrorism still viewed as a foreign problem, the Energy
Department in 1981 proposed shutting down Travelli’s mission, according
to government records.
Though the program survived, the message was clear: Influential forces
in the department didn’t have much use for it. “They just wanted it to
all go away,” recalled Busick, the former State Department official…
The Tribune article cited here is the first in a series.
We’ll have to wait to see how it has turned out.
They appear to have the most up-to-date information on the
Other sources are not encouraging. The
Union of Concerned Scientists prepared a report in 2004,
Russia has about 600 tons of potentially vulnerable
nuclear material. The United States has been working since the first
Clinton Administration to secure it.
With American technical know-how and taxpayer funds, we have been able
to put about one-fifth of Russia’s known excess fissile
material into secure storage, and 43% more has been given more modest
security upgrades. That leaves at least nearly half, however,
that is still potentially vulnerable to theft.
And it has taken over ten years to get to this point. At the current
pace, it will take more than ten years more to finish this job. That is
Then there are the stockpiles of highly enriched uranium (HEU) outside
of Russia today. More than 130 nuclear reactors around the
world have HEU fuel that could be stolen or diverted and converted into
a nuclear weapon.
Many of those reactors are in academic settings, at universities, where
security is little more than a locked gate and a night guard.
And of course, there was the recent report of an attempted sale of
weapons-grade uranium by a Russian citizen in Georgia.
Although, Russia claims the incident has been overblown,
calling it a propaganda
ploy, it does highlight the risk of loose nuclear material.
The US government provides us with some hopeful information, such as this
from the Dept. of Energy:
…NNSA’s Megaports Initiative, which began in 2003,
teams up with other countries to enhance their ability to screen cargo
at major international seaports. The Initiative provides radiation
detection equipment and trains their personnel to specifically check
for nuclear or other radioactive materials. In return, NNSA requires
that data be shared on detections and seizures of nuclear or
radiological material that resulted from the use of the equipment
…We have substantially increased our
nonproliferation spending. DOE’s
request to Congress last year sought a nonproliferation budget of $1.35
billion – a nearly 75 percent increase over the
request of the previous Administration.
We have accelerated our efforts to secure 600 metric tons of
weapons-usable material in Russia, and to date have upgraded security
on over 50 percent of the materials at nearly 70 percent of the sites
where they are found. This acceleration has cut two years off the
schedule we inherited…
…First, we will work in partnership to repatriate all Russian-origin
fresh HEU fuel by the end of this year. We will also work with Russia
to accelerate and complete the repatriation of all Russian-origin spent
fuel by 2010. There is roughly two metric tons of this material located
at more than 20 facilities in 17 countries.
Second, we will likewise take all steps necessary to accelerate and
complete the repatriation of U.S.-origin research reactor spent fuel
under our existing program from locations around the
world. There are 41 countries eligible to
participate in this voluntary program. Under the acceptance
policy, about 22,700 fuel elements are eligible for return.
That part is at least vaguely positive. Although the
quantities involved are staggering, at least there is an effort
But a few weeks ago, the DOE published this:
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Linton Brooks,
administrator of the U.S. Department of Energy’s National
Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), issued the following statement
today to employees:
“The Department has just announced that Secretary Bodman has
asked for my resignation because a number of management issues, the
most recent of which was the recent security breach at the Los Alamos
National Laboratory. I expect to formally submit my
resignation to the President shortly and to leave within 2-3
weeks. One reason for forming NNSA was to prevent such
management problems from occurring. We have not yet done so
in over five years. For much of that time I was in charge of
NNSA. Therefore the Secretary believes that new leadership is
Yes, new leadership is needed. Need more convincing?
BY ALEXANDER ZAITCHIK
01.25.2007 | POLITICS
…Where would we find the money to expand CTR and other
As easy as plucking petals off a daisy. The 110th should reduce,
redirect and rescind funds going to programs that increase the risk of
nuclear war, nuclear proliferation, or both. Juicy targets include
missile defense (aka, The Maginot Inch), all space weapons research,
and “Complex 2030,” the Department of Energy’s sneaky beast of a
proposal to reinvent and expand the entire U.S. nuclear supply chain in
the name of “consolidation.”
Missile defense should be first in line for a Thorazine shot and a
straightjacket. The boondoggle has the unique triple-attribute of being
corrupt, dysfunctional and destabilizing. It’s also a pretty penny,
sucking up some $10 billion a year. (That number, incidentally, equals
the total price tag Harvard’s Graham Allison puts on securing the
world’s remaining vulnerable fissile material depots.)…
We’re spending 10 billion dollars a year to defend against an
attack from space, but only one-tenth of that to defend against a much
more likely line of attack.
Even though we have to wait for the conclusion to the Chicago
Tribune’s series on “Atoms for Peace,” we already know what we need to
do. And we are not doing it.