Speaking on Tuesday, Heinonen emphasized that with many technical experts around the globe already adept at the laser enrichment process in research settings, it would do little good for the U.S. government to stop GE-Hitachi from commercializing the method for civil reactors.
“I don’t think that we solve it by giving or not giving a license for this General Electric [technology],” said Heinonen, who left the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2010 to become a senior fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. “The problem is that the technology exists there for the small facilities. And how to detect them? You don’t find it with one single device.”
Francis Slakey, who submitted the American Physical Society’s rule-making petition in 2010, defended his group’s focus on U.S. licensing for the technology.
Speaking at the same Tuesday forum, sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, he said a requirement for NRC-vetted proliferation assessments should be just one of many tools to help stem the spread of the emerging enrichment method.
GE-Hitachi voluntarily commissioned its own proliferation analysis by three outside experts, but NRC and company officials have declined to release even a redacted version of the report, saying it contained proprietary information. However, GSN reviewed the seven-page document, which found minimal proliferation risks for the emerging laser enrichment technology (see GSN, May 24).
Also appearing at the Tuesday speaker event, GE-Hitachi government relations official Ruth Smith emphasized her company’s “commitment to protect the technology” despite having paid more than $45,000 in NRC fines last year for what the agency termed “significant” and “willful” security violations (see GSN, Oct. 20, 2011).
Slakey, a physics lecturer at Georgetown University, called on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to decide on the APS request for “Nuclear Proliferation Assessments” prior to its anticipated September licensing of the GE-Hitachi technology. His group specifically cited the pending laser enrichment license application as a key example of why proliferation appraisals should be required before a new technology proceeds.
However, McIntyre, the NRC spokesman, dismissed Slakey’s remarks regarding timing, saying, “The petition review and the licensing review are separate.”