19 Experts: Nuclear Proliferation Risks Of Laser Enrichment Require Fuller NRC Review

Sep 05, 2012, 10:18 ET from Physicians for Social Responsibility, Washington, D.C.

Danger Compared to Current Iran-Related Proliferation Concerns, Seen As More Directly Addressable by U.S.

WASHINGTON, Sept. 5, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The following is being released by Physicians for Social Responsibility:

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is putting U.S. nuclear non-proliferation policy at risk if it decides not to require a formal nuclear proliferation assessment as part of the licensing process for a uranium laser enrichment facility in Wilmington, N.C.

That's the message from 19 nuclear non-proliferation experts in a letter sent today asking the NRC to fulfill its statutory responsibility to assess proliferation threats related to the technologies it regulates.  The letter is available online at http://www.psr.org/nrcassessment.    

Global Laser Enrichment, LLC, a joint venture of General Electric (USA), Hitachi (Japan) and Cameco (Canada), has applied for a license to operate a laser enrichment facility in Wilmington, North Carolina, based on Australian SILEX technology.  The NRC licensing review schedule sets September 30, 2012 as the date of license issuance.

One of the authors of the letter, Catherine Thomasson, MD, executive director, Physicians for Social Responsibility, said:  "It is a widely shared view that laser enrichment could be an undetectable stepping-stone to a clandestine nuclear weapons program. To strengthen U.S. policy and protect the U.S. and the world from nuclear proliferation, the NRC should systematically and thoroughly assess the proliferation risks of any new uranium enrichment technology BEFORE issuing a license allowing their development."

Dr. Ira Helfand, co-president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, said:   "If the U.S. is going to have moral authority in dealing with proliferation threats in other nations, such as Iran, it must do a better job of taking responsible steps in relation to proliferation threats in our own backyard.  In fact, a persuasive case can be made that laser enrichment technology requires even more immediate action, since this is a known danger that can be addressed directly by the NRC under its existing regulatory authority."

In the letter, the experts note that the NRC has no rules or requirements for a nuclear proliferation assessment as part of this licensing process. The experts are concerned that the Commission is falling short in its duties since a 2008 NRC manual on enrichment technology clearly states that laser enrichment presents "extra proliferation concerns due to the small size and high separation factors."

Previous letters to the NRC asking for a proliferation assessment, signed by many of today's signatories, have been rebuffed.  NRC is on record stating that the National Environmental Policy Act does not require preparation of a proliferation assessment.  However, a March 27, 2012 memorandum from the Congressional Research Service clearly concludes that the NRC has legal authority "to promulgate a regulation" requiring a proliferation assessment as part of the licensing process.

Both the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act of 1978 and the Atomic Energy Act are cited by the experts as statutory basis of the NRC's responsibility to assess proliferation risks. 

Furthermore, the letter points out that a November 2010 petition to the NRC for rulemaking would establish regulations for such an assessment (http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2010-12-23/pdf/2010-32242.pdf).  A recent article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists gives a well documented overview of why such an assessment is needed: http://thebulletin.org/web-edition/features/silex-and-proliferation . 

The full list of letter signers is as follows: Catherine Thomasson, MD, executive director, Physicians for Social Responsibility; Frank N. von Hippel, professor of public and international affairs, Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University, former assistant director for national security, White House Office for Science and Technology Policy, and co-chair of the International Panel on Fissile Materials; Christopher Paine, nuclear program director, Natural Resources Defense Council; Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, Arms Control Association; Charles Ferguson*, president, Federation of American Scientists; Peter Bradford, adjunct professor, Vermont Law School, and former commissioner, US Nuclear Regulatory Commission; Alan J. Kuperman, Ph.D., associate professor, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and coordinator, Nuclear Proliferation Project, University of Texas at Austin; Leonard S. Spector*, executive director, Washington DC office, James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies; Ira Helfand, MD, co-president, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War; James Acton, Ph.D.*, senior associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Paul Ingram, executive director, British American Security Information Council; David Culp, legislative representative, Friends Committee on National Legislation (Quakers); Jeffrey Patterson, D.O., president elect, Physicians for Social Responsibility; Jim Walsh, Ph.D.*, Security Studies Program, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Tom Clements, nonproliferation policy director, Alliance for Nuclear Accountability; Harold A. Feiveson, Ph.D., Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University; Miles A. Pomper*, senior research associate, James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies; Paul F. Walker, Ph.D., director, Environmental Security and Sustainability, Green Cross International & Global Green USA; and Susan Shaer, executive director, Women's Actions for New Directions.

EDITOR'S NOTE:  The asterisk behind certain signers indicates that cited institutional affiliations are for identification purposes only.

SOURCE Physicians for Social Responsibility, Washington, D.C.