WASHINGTON - AUGUST 1 - The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) today condemned the Department of Energy for proceeding with construction of a $5 billion South Carolina plant designed to turn plutonium into mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel for U.S. nuclear reactors without honoring its commitment to make the plant available for inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Dr. Edwin Lyman, senior staff scientist in UCS's Global Security Program, said this move undermines the credibility of nuclear non-proliferation efforts at a time when the international community is struggling to stop the spread of nuclear weapons materials and technologies around the world.
In a letter sent to Energy Secretary Samuel L. Bodman, Lyman wrote, ".the U.S. has a responsibility to set the gold standard for safeguards and security as an example for Russia and for the rest of the world. Yet DOE has already failed to live up to that responsibility by shutting the IAEA out of the process for developing a safeguards regime for the MOX plant prior to construction."
An IAEA review of the plant design would provide assurances to the international community that the facility will be used for peaceful purposes, Dr. Lyman said. Such a gesture would be a "powerful symbol" to the rest of the world that the United States plays by the same rules that it urges other countries to follow.
If the Energy Department had arranged to put the plant under IAEA safeguards, it would have had to provide facility design information to the IAEA at least 180 days in advance of the start of construction.
"Unless the United States leads the way in demonstrating its commitment to the highest level of safeguards and security for facilities that process bomb-usable nuclear materials, it will be a virtually impossible task to encourage other nations to adopt high standards," said Dr. Lyman. "The Energy Department's irresponsible actions today will only increase the chance that other nations will defy the IAEA and nuclear weapons materials will fall into the hands of rogue states or terrorists."
The Union of Concerned Scientists is the leading science-based nonprofit organization working for a healthy environment and a safer world. Founded in 1969, UCS is headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and has offices in Berkeley, California, and Washington, D.C. For more information, go to www.ucsusa.org