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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
24 Experts Urge Congress to Address Proliferation Concerns of Laser Enrichment
WASHINGTON - October 30 - In a letter to Congress, 24 leading nuclear experts urged policymakers to take into account the proliferation risks associated with laser uranium enrichment and requested that Congress conduct an inquiry into the proliferation risks associated with this technology.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is currently reviewing a license request by Global Laser Enrichment, a partnership led by General Electric-Hitachi, for a laser enrichment facility outside of Wilmington, North Carolina. The experts’ letter requested that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission consider proliferation consequences during the licensing process.
The full text of the letter, which was sent to Chairs of the House
Energy and Commerce Committee, House Energy and Environment Subcommittee,
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, and Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is available online: http://www.armscontrolcenter.
The letter noted that the planned Global Laser Enrichment Commercial Facility would complicate diplomatic efforts to discourage the use of this technology in other countries. It stated, “If the United States demonstrates that it is a commercially viable technology, it will dangerously undermine U.S. nuclear non-proliferation efforts by making it much more difficult to dissuade other countries from acquiring this technology.”
Concerns stem from the technical characteristics of this specific method of uranium enrichment make it easy to conceal, and consequently extremely difficult for international nuclear inspectors to detect. The letter noted that laser isotope separation “enables an enrichment facility to be smaller in size and to use less power than other methods of enrichment such as centrifuge or gaseous diffusion which are currently used to make low-enriched uranium fuel for use in nuclear power plants.”
Laser technology would be used as an alternative to centrifuge or gaseous diffusion to enrich uranium for nuclear fuel. The use of this uranium enrichment technology could detract from U.S. and international security efforts to detect and monitor nuclear programs worldwide as global interest in nuclear power grows. If enriched to a concentration of 20 percent uranium 235 or higher, enriched uranium can be used to make nuclear weapons.
A laser uranium research program in Iran escaped detection in 2002. Another laser enrichment research experiment was also detected in South Korea in 2004 after several years. The discovery of undeclared centrifuges enrichment facilities in Iran, at Natanz in 2002 and more recently at Qom, underscore the importance of being able to detect covert facilities that could be used to make nuclear weapons-usable material.