24 Experts Urge Congress to Address Proliferation Concerns of Laser Enrichment

For Immediate Release

24 Experts Urge Congress to Address Proliferation Concerns of Laser Enrichment

WASHINGTON - 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.org/policy/nonproliferation/articles/103009_letter_congress_laser_enrichment/
   

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.

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The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation is a Washington, D.C.-based 501(c)3 non-profit, non-partisan research organization dedicated to enhancing international peace and security in the 21st century. The Center is funded by grants from private foundations and the generosity of thousands of individual donors.

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