Washington DC – A report released today by the Institute for Policy Studies details the U.S. government’s troubling mismanagement of uranium-233, a nuclear bomb material no longer in use but still deadly. The report, entitled “Managing the Uranium-233 Stockpile of the United States,” reveals that much of this dangerous material is kept in an aging 69-year-old building in Tennessee, poor records were kept of this material, and 200 pounds of it may be missing, and now the U.S. government plans to waive safety requirements and simply dispose of the material by dumping it in a landfill, without further processing. The report was authored by Robert Alvarez, nuclear policy expert at the institute and former Energy Department adviser, and is featured in today’s New York Times.
According to the report, it takes about 19 pounds of this type of uranium to build a nuclear weapon that would devastate downtown Washington DC or another city.
“This bomb-grade nuclear material is not something we want falling into the wrong hands,” said report author Robert Alvarez. “We all want to be sure our government is working toward a safer, more secure world. But not only have government officials kept this material under questionable conditions, they now want to simply dump some of this material straight into the ground, where it may be vulnerable to the weather and to intruders. This nuclear material should be diluted and buried deep underground, where it can never be made into a weapon.”
About two tons of uranium-233 was produced by the United States, mostly in the 1960s and 1970s, as part of its military and civilian nuclear program, at an estimated cost of $5.5 billion to $11 billion. About 1.55 tons of this bomb-grade material was separated, a process making it suitable for the core of a nuclear weapon. Production was ultimately abandoned due to radioactive dangers in the production of this type of uranium.
The report reveals that specific estimates of the amount of uranium-233 in storage at certain sites widely vary. According to the report, over 200 pounds of uranium-233 may be unaccounted for. This suggests that “material control and accountancy of the current U.S. inventory of uranium-233 requires greater attention,” says the report. About 1,100 canisters of the material has been stored in a 69-year-old building at Oak Ridge National Laboratories, a building eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places which fails to meet security requirements, including intrusion surveillance and motion detection.
Now, the Energy Department has indicated it plans to waive safeguards and safety requirements to dispose of nearly 2,000 pounds of these concentrated nuclear explosive materials by simply putting them in a landfill, without further processing to make the material less dangerous.
“Such disposal would put everyday Americans at risk of nuclear radiation exposure,” says the report. “In order to dispose of this material, the Department of Energy would have to grant an unprecedented termination of safeguard requirements, which would be unwise since it would set a bad precedent for safeguarding and disposal of other wastes containing concentrated fissile materials.”
For interviews with report author Robert Alvarez, please contact:
Lacy MacAuley, Institute for Policy Studies, (202) 445-4692, [email protected]
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