U.S. Energy Agency Sets Fresh Goals for Securing Nuclear Materials

An Idaho National Laboratory employee measures radioactivity on a shipment container filled with highly enriched uranium in Dalat, Vietnam, in June 2013. The U.S. Energy Department on Monday outlined plans to secure hundreds of additional pounds worldwide of vulnerable uranium and plutonium.
National Journal
Rachel Oswald
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Rachel Oswald
April 9, 2014, 6:30 a.m.

The U.S. En­ergy De­part­ment on Monday dis­closed plans to se­cure hun­dreds of pounds of vul­ner­able urani­um and plutoni­um around the world by Oc­to­ber 2015.

In its 2014-2018 Stra­tegic Plan, the de­part­ment lis­ted as a “pri­or­ity goal” for the fisc­al 2014-2015 peri­od the re­mov­al or con­firmed dis­pos­al of roughly 700 pounds of highly en­riched urani­um and plutoni­um. The doc­u­ment did not spe­cify source coun­tries for the nuc­le­ar weapon-sens­it­ive ma­ter­i­als, or in what quant­it­ies.

If the de­part­ment’s semi­autonom­ous Na­tion­al Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Ad­min­is­tra­tion is able to suc­cess­fully se­cure the plutoni­um and urani­um, it would bring the total amount of weapons-sens­it­ive ma­ter­i­al se­cured by the United States to 11,755 pounds.

The plan was re­leased on the heels of a Nuc­le­ar Se­cur­ity Sum­mit last month in the Neth­er­lands. There the United States joined 22 oth­er na­tions in pledging to com­ply with in­ter­na­tion­al guidelines for se­cur­ing ma­ter­i­als that could be used in a so-called “dirty bomb” — one cap­able of spread­ing ra­di­ation by det­on­at­ing con­ven­tion­al ex­plos­ives paired with sens­it­ive atom­ic ma­ter­i­als.

The En­ergy De­part­ment also out­lined ad­di­tion­al nuc­le­ar-se­cur­ity goals in its 32-page plan. These in­clude:

— Fin­ish­ing the dis­pos­al of 154 met­ric tons of un­needed do­mest­ic highly en­riched urani­um by the end of fisc­al 2018.

— Field­ing fixed ra­di­ation-de­tec­tion equip­ment at roughly 622 glob­al sites and provid­ing 148 mo­bile ra­di­ation-mon­it­or­ing sys­tems and tech­no­logy train­ing to 44 na­tions be­fore fisc­al 2019.

— Safe­guard­ing a pro­jec­ted 2,327 fa­cil­it­ies con­tain­ing es­pe­cially sens­it­ive atom­ic and ra­di­olo­gic­al sub­stances by fisc­al 2018.

— Co­oper­at­ing with 38 na­tions by the end of fisc­al 2018 to en­hance their re­spect­ive ex­port-con­trol reg­u­la­tions to lim­it the pro­lif­er­a­tion of weapons of mass de­struc­tion-sens­it­ive ma­ter­i­als and tech­no­lo­gies.

The de­part­ment said ef­forts to re­duce glob­al nuc­le­ar-se­cur­ity threats were one of its 12 “stra­tegic ob­ject­ives.” Oth­er ob­ject­ives in­clude en­sur­ing a safe and re­li­able nuc­le­ar de­terrent ab­sent a re­turn to test­ing, and the mod­ern­iz­a­tion of the coun­try’s atom­ic na­tion­al se­cur­ity in­fra­struc­ture.

The Stra­tegic Plan made no men­tion of the fu­ture of the mixed-ox­ide fuel fab­ric­a­tion fa­cil­ity, cur­rently un­der con­struc­tion in South Car­o­lina. En­ergy of­fi­cials earli­er this year said they want to halt work on the pro­ject. They have yet to de­term­ine an al­tern­at­ive for the pro­gram, which is in­ten­ded to dis­pose of sur­plus weapons-grade plutoni­um as man­dated un­der a non­pro­lif­er­a­tion pact with Rus­sia.

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