A recent conference in Oslo, Norway highlighted the need for more vigorous and effective actions towards minimizing the civilian uses of highly enriched uranium (HEU). The international symposium, held 17-20 June at the Norway Peace Center and hosted by the Government of Norway in cooperation with the IAEA, aimed to establish international consensus on technical issues associated with the replacement of HEU with low-enriched uranium (LEU) for civilian uses and agree on a way forward for a concerted international effort.
In Mohamed ElBaradei’s remarks, he cited the conference’s
timeliness in view of increasing attention currently being given to the
control of uranium enrichment technology.
More than 100 civilian nuclear facilities around the world still run on weapons-grade HEU, which is uranium that has been enriched to 90% or greater. These facilities include research reactors and critical assemblies that were established in the 1950s and 1960s and have played a central role in the development of peaceful uses of nuclear technology. Many experts agree that these reactors can be converted to run efficiently on LEU, thus reducing proliferation risks while continuing to ensure a secure and effective path for nuclear research for peaceful purposes.
At the request of its Member States, the IAEA has been involved for many years in supporting efforts towards reducing the uses of HEU. International and national efforts have also increased in this area and resulted in the full conversion of 33 research reactors as of June 2006.
Although much has been achieved, vulnerabilities remain, Dr. ElBaradei emphasized. “These vulnerabilities, including the clear signs of terrorists trying to acquire nuclear material through criminal networks, were the primary reasons for which Minister Gahr and I called in our recent article for more vigorous and effective actions towards minimizing the civilian uses of HEU. In my view, we need to continue working with a sense of urgency, and through more coherent global action.”
In concluding the symposium, it was recognized that considerable scientific and human development benefits are being derived from nuclear facilities using HEU and that substituting HEU with LEU should not affect those benefits. HEU minimization can make an important contribution to international non-proliferation and disarmament objectives while also promoting the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and technology.
For more information on the “International Symposium on the Minimization of Highly Enriched Uranium in the Civilian Sector,” see: www.nrpa.no/symposium/index.html