U.S. Will Remove 200 Tons of Uranium from Weapons Stockpile

WASHINGTON, DC, November 10, 2005 (ENS) - U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman announced Monday that the Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration will remove up to 200 metric tons of highly enriched uranium from further use as fissile material in U.S. nuclear weapons and prepare this material for other uses. Secretary Bodman revealed the new policy while addressing the 2005 Carnegie International Nonproliferation Conference in Washington, DC.

The decision addresses the highly enriched uranium that becomes available when nuclear weapons are dismantled and from reductions in the nuclear weapons stockpile as directed by President George W. Bush in May 2004.

The 200 metric tons is the largest amount of special nuclear material to be removed from the stockpile in the history of the nuclear weapons program, Bodman said.

“The President’s decision to reduce the nuclear weapons stockpile by nearly half - to the smallest size since the Eisenhower administration - enables us to dispose of a significant amount of weapons-grade uranium,” Bodman said. “This is material that will never again be a part of a nuclear weapon.”

As the highly enriched uranium (HEU) is withdrawn over the next few decades, Bodman said about 160 metric tons will be provided for use in naval ship power propulsion, postponing the need for construction of a new uranium high enrichment facility for at least 50 years.


U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman addresses participants in the Carnegie International Nonproliferation Conference. (Photo by Kaveh Sardari courtesy Sardari Group)
About 20 metric tons will be down-blended to low enriched uranium (LEU) for eventual use in civilian nuclear power reactors, research reactors or related research. Down-blending this material will eliminate its potential usefulness to terrorists, said Bodman.

Approximately 20 metric tons will be reserved for space and research reactors that currently use HEU, pending development of fuels that would enable the conversion to LEU fuel cores.

HEU is stored at the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Bodman said the Energy Department is expediting construction of a facility that will permit the consolidation of all HEU at Y-12 in a modern, highly secure building.

"The need for peaceful nuclear power all over the globe has never been more apparent … while at the same time, the proliferation threat posed by nuclear materials and technology has never been more grave," Bodman told the conference.

Rapid global economic growth means a parallel growth in worldwide energy demand. "The world will need much more energy in the coming decades," said Bodman. "The Energy Information Administration estimates perhaps as much as 50 percent more by 2025, with more than half of that growth coming in the world’s emerging economies."

In Bodman's view, the answer is nuclear power. "Nuclear energy is manifestly safe," he said. "It is clean. It is efficient and affordable. And it produces no greenhouse gases, which has to be a consideration at a time when concerns about greenhouse gas emissions drive the global public policy debates."


One of the 103 U.S. nuclear power plants, Turkey Point is located on Biscayne Bay, 24 miles south of Miami, Florida. (Photo courtesy FPL)
Bodman said the Bush administration believes that nuclear power will play an enlarged role to meet the global demand. "Our government has taken a number of dramatic steps recently that are setting the stage for an expansion of nuclear power," Bodman said.

The energy secretary made no mention of the nuclear waste disposal problem that has left 77,000 tons of spent fuel from reactors and high radioactive waste from nuclear weapons production without a permanent disposal site. While the Bush administration has approved a site at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, it is stalled and is now being redesigned before a license application can be made.

Described as an annual nuclear reality check, the Carnegie International Nonproliferation Conference attracted 750 policymakers, experts, academics, journalists and students from around the world.

They heard presentations on the Iranian stalemate, the challenge of negotiating with North Korea, how to prevent catastrophic terrorism, the implications of the nuclear deal with India, the history of the nuclear age, prospects for outer space security, and reforming the nuclear fuel supply.

Fresh from receiving the Nobel Prize for Peace, International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Mohamed ElBaradei proposed four "yardsticks" against which to gauge performance in the world's efforts to curb nuclear proliferation and advance arms control.


Director General Mohamed ElBaradei of Egypt is 2005 Nobel Peace Laureate.(Photo by Kaveh Sardari courtesy Sardari Group
The yardsticks are effectiveness of nuclear verification, control of sensitive nuclear technology, protection of nuclear material, and compliance with commitments not to proliferate.

In an effort to "stay ahead of the game" in nuclear verification, Dr. ElBaradei said the IAEA is exploring innovative technologies for detecting undeclared nuclear facilities and activities.

He called for the establishment of a mechanism under which countries systematically share information with the IAEA on the export of sensitive nuclear material and technology.

Dr. ElBaradei commended the countries that are converting their research reactors from highly enriched uranium to low enriched uranium and returning the HEU to the country of origin, an effort that receives the support of the IAEA, Russia and the United States.

"Seven such transfers of fresh fuel back to Russia have been made since 2002, and we are continuing to work on arrangements for the repatriation of spent research reactor fuel of Russian origin," he said.

The fourth yardstick measures performance in complying with non-proliferation and arms-control commitments. For compliance to be effective, it must be backed by credible mechanisms to deal with cases of non-compliance, said Dr. ElBaradei.

The potential for being referred to the UN Security Council has acted as an inducement for compliance in some cases, but North Korea's referrals to the Council in 1992 and again in 2003, resulted in little to no action.


B-52H bomber with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles (Photo courtesy U.S. Navy)
To be effective, ElBaradei said, the Security Council "must be ready at all times" to cope with emerging threats to international peace and security.

At the same time, he said, confidence in nuclear disarmament commitments would be enhanced if nuclear-weapon states were to reduce the strategic role currently given to nuclear weapons.

A good beginning would be to move away from the Cold War status of maintaining these weapons on hair-trigger alert. ElBaradei pointed out that, to date, "we have not even begun to consider an approach that could replace nuclear deterrence."

Alexei Arbatov of Russia, Director of the Center for International Security at the Institute for World Economy and International Relations, is a scholar in residence at the Carnegie Moscow Center. From 1993 until 2003, Dr. Arbatov served as a Deputy Chairman of the Defence Committee of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation.

His remarks to conference delegates were critical of the Bush administration. Four decades of US-Soviet and then US-Russian bilateral negotiations and agreements on nuclear disarmament were swept away after George W. Bush came to power in the United States, he said.


Dr. Alexei Arbatov of Russia is a commissioner on the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden. Early next year, the Commission will present proposals aimed at the greatest possible reduction of the dangers of weapons of mass destruction. (Photo courtesy WMDC)
"The new U.S. administration rejected any new strategic offensive arms treaty, claiming that termination of Cold War confrontation era and movement of the two countries towards strategic partnership made arms control irrelevant. Each country was supposed to independently shape its own nuclear policy and program of nuclear force development, proceeding from its own conceptions of national security," Arbatov said.

While the START I treaty between the United States and Russia remains in effect through 2008, the negotiated START II and START III treaties never progressed.

In Russia, he said, "this position was perceived with suspicion and displeasure. It was concluded that while being aware of the critical condition of the Russian defense complex and its inability of sustaining the nuclear forces at the level of the START I, and even START II treaties, Washington decided to decisively tip the strategic nuclear balance between Russia and the United States and become the only nuclear superpower which would be beyond the reach for any other country of the world."

"The point is," said Arbatov, "that it was not arms control that was a legacy of Cold War, but rather mutual nuclear deterrence relationship between the U.S. and the Russia, while arms control was just an instrument to stabilize this relationship at lower levels of forces and ensure predictability. Doing away with arms control could in no way lead to abandoning mutual nuclear deterrence, but rather would make it less stable, regulated and predictable with negative strategic, political and economic consequences."

The Russian concluded that the improved political relations between his country and the United States "should not make arms control irrelevant – rather they should open the way to more radical agreements as an instrument for facilitating still better security relationship and liberate it from reliance on mutual destruction."

Arbatov said he would like to see "a new mode of strategic relationship, which is not based on mutual nuclear deterrence and assured destruction capability."